Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) What Are We Waiting For?

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            Waiting! That is what the Israelites were challenged by in this week’s portion. Moses, who had guided them through the flight from Egypt, was gone. Weeks passed with no word. He had gone to this mountain and had sent no word of his return. Leaderless, on their own, the Israelites turned to Aaron and demanded he do something, and thus the Golden Calf.

This historical connection for this passage can probably be seen in 2 Kings 12:28-33 when, as the Solomonic empire dissolved into a war between Israel and Judea, Jereboam of Israel erected calfs at shrines and proclaimed them as gods. History aside, this event in the week’s portion is a seminal and transitional moment in the story of the Israelites journey.

            What can we make of this? How can it speak to us, in our generation? As you may have studied, there are volumes of commentaries on the Calf. Rabbi Marini Chernow, writing in a Musar commentary, reflected on the anger the Israelites must have been feeling as being left alone for weeks. The commentaries remind us of the danger of making decisions in anger. But the message of feeling left alone, and having to wait, but not knowing for what; that we can all relate to. What have we felt in those moments? How often, when feeling totally alone and cut off, have we wished for some tangible sign that we are not alone. Maybe it is like those moments when we were children when mom or dad left and we had no concept of time, so we felt abandoned, alone!

            Rabbi Mary Zamore, writing for the URJ, channeled a comment attributed to Judah HaLevi that the Israelites were still dealing with the loss of tangible gods (from Egypt) so, in this vacuum, they returned to what they knew as they sought to transition from “a world of polytheism to one of monotheism centered on a deity without form or body.”

            There are psychological theories of this feeling of loss of attachment to a “parental” figure can be applied to the Israelites’ “loss” of their “parental” figure of Moses. Perhaps the Calf is a symbol of our fear of being alone, alienated from loved ones and searching for something, or someone to connect with? Do we all yearn for our own attachment to something or someone? In this era of loneliness and isolation, what or whom do we hold on to?

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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