Archive for the '2.09 Ki Tisa' Category

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.

Mixed-Up Dream

In the beginning of parshat Miketz we read about Pharaoh’s dreams (Exodus 41:1-32). In his dreams he is standing by the river deep in thought. And out of the river come seven skinny cows that eat the seven fat cows that preceded them. Thoroughly disturbed, Pharaoh is rattled from his sleep. When he falls asleep again he has a second dream. In this dream there are seven thin ears of corn which consume the seven healthy ears of corn that preceded them. And sure enough there is no one in Egypt besides Joseph who can correctly interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. The brilliance of Joseph is that he realizes that these two dreams were really just one dream foretelling the seven years of plenty which would be followed by seven years of famine.

But this week’s Torah portion is Ki Tisa. In this week’s parsha we learn about the receiving of the Tablets, the Sabbath, the Golden Calf, the breaking of Tablets, and then the revelation of God’s self to Moses. With so many interesting things to talk about this week, why would I waste your time on parshat Miketz? To answer this question I will have to answer another two questions. How could the Israelites, who were so close to God in this week’s Torah portion, betray God by making the Golden Calf? And if they were going to reject God, why did they choose the media of a Golden Calf?

The Golden Calf is a chimerical representation of Pharoah’s dreams. It is a hybrid of the form of the cows of the first dream and the color of the stalks of the second dream. When they were in Egypt the Israelites had acculturated to the point that they saw themselves as Egyptians. Their lot was to manifest the dreams of Pharaoh. Not only do they combine the dreams of Pharaoh into one dream, they appropriate them as their own. So even in a time of achievement they still want to be accomplished by Pharaoh’s standards. Unfortunately it is someone else’s dream and not their own.

Living vicariously is a nightmare that leaves us without drive or integrity. If we want to be satisfied and self actualized we need to strive to fulfill our own dreams. But to do that we need to identify who we are and what our dreams are. Our current economic crisis was born out of people  taking out credit beyond their means in pursuit of living out other people’s dreams. We are currently living in lean times. Having less money during this depression has allowed/forced many of us to refocus on what is truly important to us.

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