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A Divine Mulligan

Parshat Ki Tissa

Exodus 31:1-34:34

There are not too many times in life one gets a “do over”.  Except in golf! On the golf course a do over is called a “mulligan”.  No one is exactly sure of how the mulligan got its name.  One fabled story describes David Mulligan who had a habit of re-teeing a bad shot.  He often played golf at St. Lambert Country Club in Montreal, Quebec.  While he would call the shot a “correction shot”, his friends thought it needed a better name and named it after him!

Others ascribe it to a man from New Jersey while yet others tell a different story that related it to a free bottle of whiskey that was often left on a bar for customers to have a free drink.  This freebie was called a “mulligan”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, we might say the Israelites get a mulligan!  While Moses is on Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah, the children of Israel are restless and worried that he won’t return. And even though they heard the voice of God share the Ten Commandments, they plead to Aaron to make a god they can see.  Moses returns with the tablets inscribed by God to see the Children of Israel feasting and dancing around the Golden Calf.


This is considered one of the greatest moments of sin of the People Israel. They had just had a direct experience of the Divine: the plagues that descended upon Egypt that set them free, the splitting of the Red Sea, their experience at Mt. Sinai. And yet their fears caused their faith to falter.

Fear has a way of eating away at not only the ability to think clearly but to trust in yourself and even more so in a Higher Power.  Fear blocks the heart and the mind. Fear drove the Israelites to doubt their direct experience and created a situation that violated the covenant they had just made. Fear can cripple the soul.  It did for the Israelites.

Even though God gets upset and angry and Moses’ anger causes him to smash the first set the Ten Commandments love follows.  In the divine relationship Moses’ is able to seek forgiveness from God for the people’s sin.  And God graciously grants that forgiveness this week. Moses reminds God of the covenant and Moses reminds the people too.  Love and kindness and compassion are the antidote to fear.  God’s capacity for graciousness and Moses’ skill in negotiating help smooth the way again.

That is when we get a Divine mulligan!  As a sign of the eternal covenant and in forgiveness God inscribes a second set of Commandments and after forty days and forty nights Moses returns from Mt. Sinai to present it to the people.


From this week’s portion we learn about divine love and forgiveness and the possibility that like in the game of golf, we too might get and give a mulligan—the opportunity for a do-over.   Don’t let the chance pass you by and consider giving it to others.