Idolatrous Context: Eikev and Confederate Flag

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion, we revisit the Golden Calf incident.  Moshe is up on the Mountain getting the Ten Commandments  from God and when he comes down with the two Tablets he sees that the Israelites had created an idolatrous Golden Calf to worship. First he breaks the Tablets and then he grinds up the Golden Calf. What was so bad about creating this idol? No one got hurt. Also it is noteworthy that Moshe destroys both the Tablets a gift from God and the Golden Calf, but why?

I was thinking about this since Palestinian infant Ali Dawabshe was burned alive when his West Bank home was set on fire by Jewish Israelis, and  since 16-year old Israeli Shira Banki — who was stabbed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade — died of her wounds. Both serve as a painful awakening to two forces of idolatry in our community: one of brazen commitment to the West Bank and the other of homophobia. While people want to explain away both killings as crazy acts of deranged  people, we as a community need to recognize our role. Rav Benny Lau said it well in his speech at the rally in Kikar Zion, on the Motzei Shabbat following the stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride Parade:

A Jew does not stab another person! Period. All those who prayed today in synagogues across the country.All those who prayed, just today heard with their own ears the Ten Commandments. They stood and heard the commandment “Thou shall not kill”

We create a context in which these destructive and insane acts make sense. We need to take responsibility for our role as accomplices.

Earlier this summer on the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. During a prayer service, nine people were killed by a gunman. The morning after the attack, police arrested Dylann Roof who later confessed to committing the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war. Like the killers of Ali Dawabshe and Shira Banki, Roof was deranged. History was made later in the summer when South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its post on the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.

PHOTO: The confederate flag is removed in Charleston, South Carolina, July 10, 2015. The larger group needed to take responsibility for the racist context of hate they had created with that symbol. They too felt like accomplices.

In creating the Golden Calf the Israelites proved that they might do anything as a group. Their group-think created a context where many bad things could happen. It would just take one bad egg to act on the spirit of the group and anything was possible. Moshe broke the God-given Tablets to awaken the people of the logical ends of their idolatry. They could soon be accomplices in breaking “Thou shall not kill”. What will awaken us to the idolatry in our community? What flags do we need to be taking down?

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