One of the more bizarre and challenging shows we just watched was something called “Fake Famous” (HBO). It is a documentary that discusses the phenomenon of creating “Influencers”, people who live on streaming services, amass “followers” and use that “fame” to boost their egos and create revenue for themselves. It seemed to be the perfect symbol for a society of self worship and narcissism. Was it a coincidence that we watched it during the week when we read the Golden Calf story.
I would hope that in your Torah study discussions some time will be spent on this story as a symbol of the culture of individualism that we seem to be living in. This “age of entitlement” gnaws at the very fabric of a cooperative society and threatens to eat away that fabric. The story of the calf may be rooted in history (see I Kings 12) but the desire to have a tangible “idol” or symbol to worship seems to be ever-present. The non tangible God is at once, our strength and a weakness. It seems people need, especially in times of turmoil, something to see as a symbol upon which to transfer their feelings.
What we worship is very telling. It becomes easy to fall back into primitive practices. So, for this portion and the symbolism of the calf, I recalled a wonderful meditation from a pervious prayer book. It is a meditation called “The Gods We Worship” and it has specific meaning for this week, and indeed, for our times. The meditation understands that we “struggle to experience the Presence of God”. We are asked to remember that we must remember to what we invoke is the “Most High” and not the god of “battles, state or status or success”. We are reminded that each of us “will worship something” and finally, in a great close to the meditation, we are reminded : “That which dominates our imagination and our thoughts will determine our life and character. Therefore it behooves us to be careful what we are worshipping, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming” (Gates of Prayer”. CCAR p. 240)
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.