Posts Tagged 'Golden calf'

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.”

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Manifest- Nation

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we see the most brazen challenge to Moses authority. For Korach there was no Arab spring. His uprising against Moses is put down, way down. Korach and his band get swallowed up by the ground.

It is interesting to juxtapose this story to Aaron’s appointment to becoming the High Priest that we read at the end of the Torah portion. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shalt write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass tomorrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod.25 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not. Numbers 17: 17-25

As compared to the story with Korach, this process of determining leadership is marked by transparency. While many people died with Korach for the restoration of Moses’s authority Aaron’s authority was established with no harm done to anyone.

From a moral perspective the story of almond blossom seems a lot better than the loss of human life, but in another context it is much worse. When Korach is gone there is no evidence. The miracle of Aaron’s authority is kept as a reminder of his authority. It resonates with the whole tragedy of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelite could not sit with the trust in a God or a leader which they could not see, touch, or hold. It was Aaron himself that helped them craft the Golden Calf. Theologically there is a certain strength of Moses who has nothing to show for his authority.

But, it is not just the Israelites. We all seek confirmation and validation in our lives. While compliments are great, a physical representation of that affirmation makes all the difference. It is hard to live with ideas, we all seek a physical manifestation in our lives. While they need not assume that it is idolatry, it is interesting to see in our own lived that we keep these things as totems of our achievements. These need not be expensive to represent excellence. Alas, this is the brilliance of paper plate awards. Happy camping.

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.

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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