By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant
This week’s Torah parsha, Ki Tisa, begins on Mount Sinai, where God is relating to Moses some rather benign instructions pertaining to the final particulars to complete the Holy Sanctuary. It is expected that Moses will remain at the top of the mountain for another forty days. Here, he will receive the two tablets of the ‘Ten Commandments’ as well as other ordinances, including God’s ‘Thirteen Attributes of Mercy’ (1).
Moses had no reasons for concern, as he continued his stay on top of Mount Sinai. Just weeks ago, ‘The Children’ of Israel had journeyed to Sinai; their stop was to be brief, but transformative. Everything seemed so special, so idyllic in so many ways: They had come together as a nation, bonded in a sense of unity and love, born of a common past and a shared vision of the future. They prepared themselves to enter into a covenant with God, to take a quantum leap towards the fulfillment of the promises of their forefathers. The heavens opened: they were granted an opportunity to hear God’s words of holiness to them. The next stop was expected to be the ‘Promised Land’.
Instead, an incident of horrific proportions occurred, which would drastically alter the fate of the Israelites.
The People were struck with terror and panic, when it appeared to them that Moses would be gone for a prolonged period of time. He was not only their leader, but also their conduit to God. They gathered around Aaron and said to him: “Make us gods that will go before us because this man, Moses, who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what’s become of him” (2).
Upon leaving Egypt, Moses decided to bring along over one thousand Egyptians, whom he believed were also being maltreated (3). This interpretation explains how the People could have desired an idol; it was the foreign idolaters who were the originators of this treacherous idea. However, two thousand (of the six hundred thousand) Israelites joined with the foreigners (4).
Aaron, expecting Moses to arrive within days, took actions in an attempt to stall and delay the perpetration of this most egregious sin (5). He said to the Israelites: “Remove the golden earrings from your wives and daughters, and bring them to me” (6). Aaron took the gold pieces, and made a ‘molten’ calf. Those who had insisted on the creation of a false god, offered up sacrifices to this hand-made idol.
On Mount Sinai, God said to Moses: “Go, descend, for the people that you have brought up from Egypt have acted corruptly” (7).
And then Moses returned. He saw the sinners; they were serenading their ‘calf’ in a frenzy of idolatrous revelry. Moses threw the two ‘tablets’ to the ground, and the shattering brought an end to their orgy. Those who were faithful to God purged the community of idol worshippers, killing them with their swords.
God prohibits idolatry, because although the Torah doesn’t change, people do. “Do not make for yourself any molten gods, which are fixed in form; otherwise you, too, will be incapable of change” (7).
(2) EXODUS (32:1)
(3) Rashi: “Commentary on EXODUS (12:38)”
(4) Bar University (Torah Study Center), Ramat-Gan, Israel
(6) EXODUS (32:2)
(7) EXODUS (32:7)
(8) Rabbi Mendel Kotz (1787-1859), Kock, Poland