Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Ki Tisa - 5777

Der friends,

This week's Parasha, while continuing the instructions regarding the building of the Tabernacle, is interrupted with the incident of the making and worshipping of the Golden Calf. The story of the Golden Calf comes exactly halfway through the many chapters and verses dealing with the Tabernacle.

It is hard to believe that, after witnessing the Revelation at Mount Sinai, where the people were given the Ten Commandments, and only forty days after this great and memorable event, the people turn to worshipping an idol - the Golden Calf.

Moses was still on the mountain receiving the Tablets of the Commandments when the people below grew restless and assumed that he is gone. They turn to Aaron and ask him to give them a god that will lead them to the promised land.

To gain some time, Aaron asks them for their gold jewelry which he throws into the fire, and makes a golden calf. The next day the people gather for a celebration where they worship the golden calf as the god who took them out of Egypt. They practice idolatry before this calf and behave in a way that is totally contrary to what they had learned and accepted upon themselves just forty days ago at the foot of Mount Sinai.

What happened? How could they have forgotten all the events which had led them to believe in the One G-d? They had witnessed the Exodus, the Parting of the Sea, the daily manna, and the great Revelation at Sinai. Didn't any of these miracles make an impression on their hearts?

The noted Israeli Jewish public intellectual Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903-1994) explained that true faith in G-d does not come from extraordinary events that one might witness. True faith in G-d comes from within the heart and soul of a people, of each person. The Hand of G-d that the people saw in their liberation from slavery, the Crossing of the Sea and the Revelation at Sinai, were not sufficient to penetrate and turn these former slaves into G-d-obeying people. For hundreds of years, they saw their masters behaving in the most corrupt and immoral ways, and worshipping idols. Those were the lifestyles that were meaningful to them. To become a people who will believe in G-d and observe the Torah will take many generations. It cannot be acquired from outside, extraordinary events, but from a deep commitment from within that the belief and faith in G-d is what life is all about.

The Jewish people have continued to cling to their faith and traditions, even while facing serious challenges and threats, even to their very existence, We may not have all the answers, but our faith in G-d and in the Jewish heritage is strong because we believe that G-d is still with us. He is ingrained in our soul and in our heart.

In this week's Parasha, G-d shows His compassion and mercy by forgiving His people, even though they abandoned Him and turned to worshipping an idol. There is a lesson for us: Sometimes we feel abandoned by our friends and those we love. Our sages teach us that, just like G-d is compassionate, we too should be compassionate. Just like G-d is merciful, we too should be merciful. The lesson from the Golden Calf is to accept that life is not perfect, and that we must show compassion and mercy in all our relationships.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram