Choose a Side
The Haftorah of the portion Ki Tisa tells a story about something that happened during the time of Elijah the Prophet. Almost everybody at that time had gone off the spiritual path, going instead towards the prophets of a god named Baal; so much so that it got to a point where Elijah was the only person left on the pure spiritual path.
So, it tells us that Elijah said to the over 400 prophets of the Baal, “Let’s do a test. You bring a sacrifice to the mountain Carmel by Haifa, and I’ll bring a sacrifice, and we will see whose sacrifice is accepted.”
It’s a very fascinating story, with many details. The prophets of Baal bring their sacrifice and start yelling out to their god, but nothing happens. So, Elijah starts chiding them: “Maybe he’s asleep! Yell a little bit louder.” But still, nothing happens.
Then Elijah takes his sacrifice, and water is poured all over the wood, all over the sacrifice, and fills up the tunnels next to it. And he tells the Creator, “Now is the time for You to prove to the world that either the majority - all these hundreds of prophets and all the people following them - are right, or it is just me that is right.” And in the Mincha prayer that we do, it says the fire comes down from the heavens, the miracle happens, and not only is the sacrifice burnt up, but so is all of the water that was there.
There are many lessons in this story, but I want to focus on a statement that Elijah makes. As we said, at that time Elijah was the only person on the pure spiritual path; however, everybody else dabbled. They went a little bit to the Baal, but they also sometimes did the spiritual work to try to connect to the Light. And the statement Elijah makes is, “This has to stop. Choose one side. Either be 100% with the idols, or 100% with the Creator. Don’t be in the middle. Don’t go back and forth.” This is very interesting; he’s basically telling them it is better for them to leave the spiritual path altogether rather than stay somewhere in the middle, doing a little bit of spiritual work while then going back to their lives filled with their selfish desires.
It is an important concept, because most of us are not clear about this. We think it’s okay to do our spiritual work, but then also do all kinds of other things. But what Elijah says here is not what we would naturally assume. If they’re still doing a little bit of the spiritual work, why discourage them? Isn’t it better to be doing a little spiritual work rather than none? But from the statement Elijah makes, we learn that the answer is no. If a person is going to go the selfish route, they should go all the way and not lie to themselves by being a little bit spiritual while they are still allowing themselves to live in their Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. As such, Elijah tells them, and us, “Choose a side.”
We’re all, unfortunately, somewhere in the same vicinity of where those people in the generation of Elijah the Prophet were. Yes, we are inspired to do the spiritual work, but we also, at times, fall and choose otherwise. Yet, we learn here from Elijah that there is great danger being in the middle, because when we’re in the middle, we never get to the end, to the true connection to the Light. And so, on Shabbat Ki Tisa, we can receive the assistance from Elijah the Prophet to stop staying in the middle, and choose the side of the Light of the Creator, completely, pushing ourselves in that direction. Going back and forth will never bring us where we’re meant to be: a true connection to the Creator, and the Light and blessings that come from that connection.