Whom or what do you worship? That is a very powerful theme that we can contemplate this Shabbat. Ki Tissa deals with the story of the Golden Calf, the idol created to substitute for Moses by the impatient and irreverent Israelites. Were they trying to substitute the temporal for the transcendent? We seem to need tangible things to “worship”!
What a coincidence that as this portion arrives, we can still reflect on the High Holiday of American secular religion: the Super Bowl. Over 100 million people, we are told, participated in this mass secular religious ritual. It had a spacious cathedral for worshipers and even their own type of Oneg-Shabbat, as in tailgates. Indeed, it seems lately that the “influencers” of opinion come more from the celebrity arena than the arenas of thought.
The Hebrew for idolatry in often avodah-zarah. Idolatry, the worship, extreme admiration or reverence for something or someone seems to have reached new levels of impact in our society. Does this something to do with a retreat from what some call “organized” religion, as if religion could be “organized”! Are we falling into a trap, as did our ancestors in the Wilderness, that we need something tangible to identify with, or worship? Does this need for something we can see, or touch reflect some type of unconscious insecurity? Have we become afraid to trust our own souls and instincts?
An old prayer in an old prayer book reminds us to be careful what we worship because we become what we worship. People, cathedrals all are transitory, they rise and fall, and they live and die. What Torah may be telling us again is that we make an error if we worship only that which is visible, provable, or can be demonstrated. The values of Judaism, justice, compassion, caring, equality and equity; these emerge from life experience and a life force that is beyond the “now”. It is the force that propels us to create true moments of meaning, moments that live longer than the temporal idols that celebrate immediate gratification.
There are far too many “golden calfs” in our lives today. Be careful what we worship. It is easy to lose one’s self. What, or whom do you worship?
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.