Archive for the '2.09 Ki Tisa' Category

Golden Calf and Trump

In parshat Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion,  starts with God giving Moshe a few last commandments about how to lead the Israelites. Then it continues;

When the people saw that Moshe was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: “Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moshe, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don’t know what has become of him. (Exodus 32:1)

Waiting to get the complexity of the Torah was too challenging for them. Masses of people never have the patience for nuance.

This is reminiscent of a talk given by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter. In a 2012 appearance in New Hampshire he made some striking and prescient remarks about the dangers of “civic ignorance”. This video has been circulating and worth seeing:

I was was most struck when he said:
I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’… That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.
Civics is important. We need to know who is responsible and then we can demand performance from them. Like the Israelites in the Golden Calf Incident, as was the case with Rome for Augustus, I am worried about our republic. The people who voted for Trump invested in a demagogue who claimed he alone could solve their problems. There is a never a quick fix to a truly complex problem. And yes everyone knew that health care was this complex. What will we need to do to clean up from this mess? Trump has been up on the Hill for over 40 days. If he wants to clean up this mess he has to do it quickly. He alone can determine if he is going to be Moshe, Augustus, or a Golden Calf. Like the Golden Calf- Trump is a product of an ignorant and impatient group yearning to be heard. It only it was as easy as breaking a couple of Tablets to get them to shut up and listen for a moment.

4th Wall and 4th Grader

In Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion we read of the people sinning with the Golden Calf while Moshe was getting the Ten Commandments. Moshe comes down from Mt. Sinai with tablets in hand to deal with the sinners.  And then we  read,

31 And Moshe returned unto the Lord, and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them a god of gold. 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray of You, out of Your book which You have written.’ 33 And the Lord said unto Moshe: ‘Whosoever has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book. Exodus 32: 31-33

If God does not keep God’s promise to the Israelites, Moshe asks to be erased. Moshe breaking through the 4th wall has got to be one of my favorite ideas in the Torah.

I was thinking about this earlier this year when Adina and I got a letter from Yishama’s 4th grade teacher. There she wrote:

Hello! We’re so glad that Yishama is feeling better and is back in school. I wanted to share something sweet and insightful that Yishama said during reading today. We were discussing The Chocolate Touch and whether or not we’d want to be one of the characters in the book and why. A few children shared, and then Yishama raised his hand. “Well, we’re already kind of in a book … G-d’s book! (Looks up at the ceiling) You’re doing a great job of writing it!” I thought this was just so wonderful that I had to share it! – Morah Brooke

What does it mean to see your life playing out as part of book? What does it mean to break that 4th wall in your own life? And most importantly,  I love learning lessons from 4th grader.

-Other thoughts on the 4th Wall

 

Bezalel Design Thinking

As of late there has been a lot of talk of using Design Thinking in reforming Jewish Education. What is design thinking? Design Thinking has come to be defined as combining empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context. The premise of teaching Design Thinking is that by knowing about how designers approach problems and the methods which they use to ideate, select and execute solutions, individuals and businesses will be better able to improve their own problem solving processes and take innovation to a higher level.

It seems that knowing your students and the context in which they exist is important to design optimal educational experiences for them. But is this a new idea?

Recently I was talking with Alon Meltzer who had some really interesting insights into the development of the character of Bezalel. In the Talmud we learn that Bezalel must have been sitting in the tzel- shadow, listening in on the divine plan, and that is where he got his name (Berachot 55a). In his nature he was an observer.

In Ki Sisa we were introduced to Bezalel. We read:

See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,and I have imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship ( Exodus 31:2)

Bezalel was filled the ruach, Holy Spirit. Rashi quotes the Sifrei to explain:

With his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned. With his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned

According to Rashi, the Holy spirit was his intellectual capacity to take an idea and make it into reality.

In Vayakhel we repeat the building of the Mishkan. There we are reintroduced to Bezalel and his God-given talents.  There we read:

Bezalel and Oholiav and every wise hearted man into whom God had imbued wisdom and insight to know how to do, shall do all the work of the service of the Holy, according to all that the Lord has commanded. ’With his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned’( Exodus 36:1)

This  seems to echo what Rashi was explaining that he knew how to brainstorm real life solutions.

And then in Pekuday, this week’s Torah portion we read:

Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, had made all that the Lord had commanded Moses.  (Exodus 38:22)

Here Rashi explains Bezalel’s ingenuity. He was able to realize that while Moshe was shown the utensils of the Mishkan first, it would be impractical to build them first, so he reversed the order and first built the house, and then the utensils.

Bezalel has insight and wisdom bestowed upon him from God. Then Bezalel takes these designs and prototypes them, constructing things according to plan and everything is ‘as God commanded him’. And finally this week Bezalel goes beyond and reimagines the project, and introduces his own vision in the implementation of the design. Bezalel seems to move seamlessly from observing to brainstorming, to prototyping, and finally to implementing. Bezalel seems to manifest this Design Thinking process. Maybe he can inspire us to rethink Jewish Education. 

Burning Curiosity

In Ki Tisa,  this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the receiving of the Tablets, the Sabbath, the Golden Calf Incident (GCI), the breaking of Tablets, and then the revelation of God’s self to Moshe. During the GCI God tells Moshe to go deal with the people of Israel. We read:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe: ‘Go, get yourself down; because your people, that you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have dealt corruptly; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said: This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ And the Lord said to Moshe: ‘I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people. Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.’ And Moshe sought the Lord his God, and said: ‘Lord, why does Your wrath wax hot against Your people, that You have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? ( Exodus 32: 7-11)

Moshe goes on to advocate for his people. Why does Moshe stick up for his people? What is his motivation?

One approach to this question is to compare this post GCI interaction between God and Moshe to their first meeting at Horev . We read:

Now Moshe was keeping the flock of Yitro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the farthest end of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of God, to Horev. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said: ‘I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’ ( Exodus 3:1-3)

There is no doubt that the people “turned aside” to idolatry too quickly. Moshe sees something else in this “stiffnecked people”. He sees himself. Just like Moshe was hot-headed in killing the Egyptian Taskmaster who was beating the Israelite slave, in making the Golden Calf they rushed to deal with the perceived absence of leadership. Moshe can also see the positive qualities that lead him to “turn aside” and taking notice of this miraculous bush. However misdirected I am left assuming that the people were coming from a place of burning curiosity.

Just as he got another chance, Moshe argues that the Israelites need another chance . The very nature of our being is that we make mistakes. While their actions are bad, they are not. Can we see under that they have great qualities. They have curiosity and passion, the question is can Moshe and God help them redirect that in a positive direction. Seeing the inner good in people and helping them channel it for good seems to be the role of every parent and teacher. I think Plutarch got it right when he said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Permission to Shine

In Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses ascending Sinai and getting the Ten Commandments. It is hard to imagine anything more inspiring than being on hand for Moses receiving the Torah. But, alas we see that this did not work for the Israelites. While Moses was up getting the Tablets, they grew impatient and made a Golden Calf for themselves. If the Israelites lost their passion and commitment so soon after experiencing the miracles of the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the victorious war with Amalek, how could we today have any hope of staying on mission?

After the resolution of the Golden Calf incident Moses returned to the people with a new set of Tablets. While the first set were made by God, this time Moses made them himself. In addition at the end of Torah portion we read:

33 And when Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But when Moses went in before the Lord that God might speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and he came out; and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. 35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face sent forth beams; and Moses put the veil back upon his face, until he went in to speak with God.

This is the origin of the Michelangelo‘s depiction of Moses with horns of light. It is clearly also the source of why some people believed that Jews had horns. This is all secondary to the notion that this outpouring of light from Moses helped the Israelites see that their leader was inspired. We need our leaders to be inspired to be inspiring. There is something to the DIY ethos. We all need to have a sense of ownership in a project to be invested in its outcome. Where as in the first set of Tablets it was all about God, in the second set God had Moses and therefore the people’s buy-in.

Recently I was talking with Michael Wax an Assistant Director of Beber Camp about how he might inspire his staff to move the needle on what is an already a very good program at his camp. In my mind we need to find more ways to share our vision so that others share a sense of ownership. When we allow people to own their work they radiate their passion and joy. This attitude itself is infectious. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems, Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson. We read:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Moses’s beaming face gave permission for the Israelites to let themselves shine too. It seems that if we really want to move the needle we need to figure out how to let ourselves and those around us shine.

– Also posted at FJC’s Campfire

The Tardy Animal

On Shabbat Chol HaMoed we read a section of Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 33:12- 34: 26). The portion that we read is post Golden Calf Incident (GCI). We read of the creation of the second tablets which seem to speak to the repairing the relationship post GCI. What is the meaning of recalling the GCI on Passover?

Earlier in the portion in Ki Tisa we read:

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him: ‘Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.’  (Exodus 32:1)

For people who had just experienced so many tremendous miracles they seem pretty quick to make an idol. But that is secondary to their leaving no room for Moses being tardy. Have any of us known any world leader who is actually punctual?

In our context of Chag HaMatzot– Passover the Holiday of Unleavened Bread- their not excusing Moses running late is particularly poignant. Why do we eat Matzah on Passover? As we read in the Haggadah:

Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, revealed God’s self to them and redeemed them. Thus it is said: “They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions.” (DIY Haggadah)

So yes, when the time came for them to finally leave they did not delay, but that final plague was not the first time they heard of their pending exodus. Moses came and told the slaves that they will be leaving before all of those plagues. While they did not have Tupperware to pack great provisions for the trip, why did they not prepare a little better? You think they would have prepared some bagels for the trip, they travel quite well.  It seems that is was not only Pharaoh who did not believe in the God of the Israelites. The slaves themselves procrastinated in getting ready to leave the world they knew. While we call it the bread of affliction, the affliction is procrastination. We all run late and wait until the last-minute to get things done, or worse did not believe we were actually leaving until it was too late to prepare.

So we have Chag HaMatzot a holiday that you cannot do last-minute. We actually start to prepare for Passover a month in advance. As we eat this “bread of procrastination” we should remember where we were in terms of our faith and be more forgiving of Moses who was running a little late receiving the Tablets on Har Sinai. When I am running late or procrastinating I assume that other people will understand because I am doing God’s work, but God forbid someone wastes my time. We all have to work on this double standard. Maybe if we work on this quality we will bring the Messiah a little faster, thou s/he may tarry.

Erase Me

A few of weeks ago Yishama, our 4-year-old, declared to Adina, out of no where, that God drew the world in pencil. When she asked him why, he responded, ” So God can erase it if He needs to.” I have asked Yishama a couple of times since what he meant by that. He just smiles as me as if it is obvious. I am not sure what he meant, but maybe this week’s Torah portion will help.

We read of the people sinning with the Golden Calf while Moses was getting the Ten Commandments. Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and deals with the sinners.  And then we  read,

31 And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them a god of gold. 32 Yet now, if You will forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray of You, out of Your book which You have written.’ 33 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Whosoever has sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book. Exodus 32: 31-33

If God does not keep God’s promise to the Israelites, Moses asks to be erased. While Avraham confronted God at his destruction of Sodom, Moses pulls off the ultimate Keyser Söze. As imperfect as they are, Moses puts himself on the line and casts his lot with the people of Israel.

In the Bible it seems that history is an iterative process.  First in the two creation stories God keeps on trying and trying again. This continues when God decides to start again and brings a flood. God promises that God will not do that again, but then recreates the world with a famine (profound anti- Flood) in the story of Joseph. And now again God threatens to erase these people and start again with Moses. In this moment Moses ends the pattern of erasing. Moses makes God commit to this version, this people, and this world. In this episode we truly become the People of the Book. With Moses, the book is published and cannot be erased. Moses teaches us, on an existential level, why text matters so much.

Our son Yadid is in first grade this year. This means that he started having homework this year. It is great. He is learning to read in Hebrew and English, repairing for spelling tests and all that. Adina and I have been very careful to have him do his homework in pencil. He often is making mistakes and is erasing his work in order to get it right.

We undo ourselves when we think we are infallible and do not need to write in pencil. We also fail when we think we can get by without having to commit. There is a time for pen and a time for pencil. I think Yishama was teaching us that God is infallible because God planned on making mistakes. I think what we learn from Moses is that at some point we need to commit ourselves even if it is not perfect. All too often progress is lost in the pursuit of perfection.


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