Ki Tisah /Breaking the DIshes : A case study in organizational management

Ki Tisah/ Breaking the Dishes : A case study in organizational management

So Moshe went up the mountain… and for the Israelites he basically left and it wasn’t so clear what he was doing.

We know  that Moshe was called by  God to make the stone tablets.  But in their experience they were abandoned. And they felt desperate.kitisa

 Who was in charge at that point? Aaron! So they asked him to resolve their anxiety and fears! But in fact, although Aaron was nominally in charge and had the formal authority, he was just then taking his very first steps as a Cohen, our first priest. His leadership was not yet established. He lacked the true authority to help them go through this rough time.

So the CEO and the President, were “upstairs” in the “conference room” working really hard for the benefit of the entire company, but they hadn’t assured that everybody knew what they were supposed to do and to expect while the bosses were in this very important meeting. They didn’t even know how long they were supposed to wait.

At some point God hears “noise” coming from below, the Golden Calf! The people knew that they were supposed to leave behind any kind of idols. They knew that making the Golden Calf was a huge mistake but they couldn’t help themselves…. Their anguish and anxiety betrayed them.

Moses, the CEO, goes down immediately and in an act of fury breaks the tablets!

Breaking the tables means full company layoffs.  If the tables, the law, the way in which we behave is the glue that keeps together our society, then once you get rid of that you are declaring that we are no longer continuing in this partnership.

The Israelites were shocked. They knew that what they did was wrong and Moshe was in shock too. But at this point not because of the Israelites but by himself. This act of anger was an act of venting and definitely not the best of his leadership. Because there was a crisis there and being overwhelmed by what he was seeing, instead of trying to put out the fire he added fuel to the flames!


And here comes God, the president, the real “big boss”, and what does he say? Let’s eliminate them! There are 2 possible readings for this attitude; the one is to really scare the Israelites, but the other one is to mentor Moshe! Why? Because this statement gives back to Moshe his leadership which was broken together with the tablets. He immediately advocates on behalf of the Israelites and asks for God’s mercy.

And here is the shift for the entire situation; from complete disorder things get back to a better place:

1) Moshe, takes back his role by being the one who protects the Israelites.

2) God shows a different face in which He can be perceived: Mercy. And we hear for the first time the portion which later will be a very important part of our liturgy, the 13 attributes of mercy! Adonai Adonai el Rachum ve Chanun.

  1. יְהוָהAdonai — compassion before a person sins;
  2. יְהוָהAdonai — compassion after a person has sinned;
  3. אֵלEl — mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need;
  4. רַחוּםRachum — merciful, that humankind may not be distressed;
  5. וְחַנּוּןVeChanun — and gracious if humankind is already in distress;
  6. אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִםErech appayim — slow to anger;
  7. וְרַב-חֶסֶדVeRav chesed — and plenteous in kindness;
  8. וֶאֱמֶתVeEmet — and truth;
  9. נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִיםNotzer chesed laalafim — keeping kindness unto thousands;
  10. נֹשֵׂא עָו‍ֹןNoseh avon — forgiving iniquity;
  11. וָפֶשַׁעVaFeshah — and transgression;
  12. וְחַטָּאָהVeChata’ah — and sin;
  13. וְנַקֵּהVeNakeh — and pardoning.


3) Coordinating expectations: Many rules are explained again and it becomes very clear for the people of Israel what they are expected to do.

4) Aaron will take over during Moshe’s absence.

5) Moshe will need to leave again for 40 days to rewrite the tablets.


So, what do we learn from this whole situation!?

In times of crisis we need to be very careful and to avoid falling into old patterns that may be unhealthy for us.

The way to navigate crisis is by assuming responsibility and taking leadership. In addition,  when we are partners in a crisis we should find the way to coordinate our expectations.  This will usually be expressed by trying to stick to our rules. We need to facilitate the space to express our frustrations and fears, however this expression should also be within a defined framework. Otherwise we are taking the risk of converting our problems into our identity and we do not want to be what life puts in front of us but rather the way in which we deal with our circumstances.

And the last and very important thing! When you want to “lishbor et hakelim” to break the dishes, get rid of the glue that connects between us, wait a minute…. That’s exactly the time for mercy and reconciliation. Remember that it’s easier not to break than to fix.

Shabbat Shalom


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