Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Ki Tisa

February 19, 2011: 15 Adar I, 5771
Modern Author: Sholem Asch

KOSHI: HOW does leadership/or lack there of impact the formation of Israel’s Covenant? WHY did the golden calf happen? WHAT does the calf incident teach us about faith today?

REMEZ…Dialogue of the Centuries—Reclaiming Culture/Connection

v.1   When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron,saying to him, “Come, make us a god  who shall go before us, for that man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”

RASHI… “boshesh”—That is, “delayed”—an expression of lateness…[Shabbat 89a]When Moses ascended the Mountain, he told them: 40 days time and I shall be back by midday.  They thought that the day of his ascent was included in the count, while he meant 40 complete days… Satan came and threw the world into chaos, giving it the appearance of darkness and gloom, as if to say,  “Surely your Moses is dead…”

ABARBANEL… Why did Moses’ delay make them ask “for a god who shall lead us?” Moses was not a god.

RASHI… “asher yeyl’chu”—That is, who shall go—in the plural form. They desired many gods.

RAMBAN… RASHI’s comment to this verse is somewhat off target.  In fact, this whole verse is key to understanding the episode of the golden calf…Obviously, the Israelites did not think Moses was a god. They explicitly asked for “a god who shall go before us.”   What they wanted was a second Moses…

Let us make a new Moses who will guide us at God’s command; a new “man of God”  You can tell this from Aaron’s excuse to Moses: “They said to me: Make us a god to lead us,”[v.23] not a god to worship.

v.2-3    And Aaron said to them: Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons & daughters, and bring them to me. And all the people took off the gold

TANCHUMA…Aaron said to himself: The women and children are fond of their jewelry.  Perhaps the matter will be delayed, and Moses will arrive in the meantime.  But the men did not wait, they took off the gold rings and brought…

BeCHOR SHOR…Aaron went along because he thought: If I suggest that they make Caleb or Nachshon or someone like that the leader, when Moses returns he will not give up power. And Moses wouldn’t like it if I suggest myself.

v.4       This he took from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed: This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!           

RASHI… Once he threw it into the furnace, the wizards of the mixed multitude turned it into a calf by magic.

AVRAHAM ben HaRAMBAM…I have a tradition from my father and teacher of blessed memory that this was because, even now, they still held fast to their astrological beliefs, convinced that they left Egypt under the zodiacal sign of the bull—and that their destiny was so governed.

RALBAG…But not a lamb, so as to keep them from returning to the corrupt religion from which they had escaped.  Since Taurus follows Aries, Aaron was clever enough to choose a calf instead.

BeCHOR SHOR…Literally, “your gods” a plurality, perhaps referring to the calf & Aaron, thinking he’d lead.

v.5       When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it and said:” Tomorrow shall be a Festival to the Lord.”

RASHI… Aaron was certain it would be a Festival unto the Lord—that Moses would return the next day.

RALBAG…To keep control of the situation, in the guise of an idolatrous priest, he built an altar.

VaYIKRA RABBAH…Aaron saw many things. He saw his nephew Hur murdered for rebuking them. We know this from the phrase Vayiven mizbe’ach l’fanav, which he read to say VaYaven mi-zavu’ach l’fanav. He saw that he too would be killed if he resisted.  He also “saw” that it would be better if the infamy of this sin were attached to him rather than to the Israelites

v.6       Early next day, the people offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat to eat and drink, and then rose up to dance.

MUNK… Aaron’s pure intentions are given prominence by our Sages…In reality, though, despite his best intentions, he did participate in an act which contributed to the spiritual deterioration of the people.

…Aaron could never erase from his conscience the recollection of that scene when the calf was worshipped.  And on the day of the Tabernacle’s inauguration he approached the altar with trembling, for the sight of its horns brought back memories of the calf.  Moses had to bolster his spirit with words of encouragement [RASHI-Lev 9:7] before he consented to carry out his office as kohen gadol.


3 responses to “Ki Tisa

  1. Emily Grotta February 23, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    Thinking about our Chevra session this week while watching the news in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen etc unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder how the conversation would have been in a different year. While we always find a way to make the parshah relevant to our times, never has it been easier than this week.

  2. Jack Blumenfrucht February 22, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Were Moses and Aaron set up by God? Why did the omnipresent God who knows the past and the future “allow” this episode to unfold in the first place? Why do the Rabbis and Sages go to great length to clear Aaron, lambast the chosen people and ignore Moses?

    My take here is that God could have avoided this entire episode by talking directly to Aaron and empowering him accordingly. This was not meant to be. I suspect the reasons to be the following:

     Moses was above the people as God’s sole confident, interlocutor, mouthpiece and anointed leader whereas Aaron was destined to become an equal of the people and the leader people would choose. Aaron was the necessary change of the guards for a people-hood in need of becoming morally and spiritually self-sustaining;

     For people having worshipped for 400 years Egyptian deities; it would be totally unrealistic to expect them to – in the span of 3 months – switch to a new and abstract God.

    God knew from the start his people’s attraction to other gods would present a continuous challenge. Hence, the perfectly and timely planted Gold Calf episode God introduced from the get go to educate his people then – and for generations to come – about leadership, community, faith, covenants and rituals.

  3. IrvZuckerman February 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    What we have here is a failure to communicate. Moses had been having nothing but tzurris from these people since the day they left Egypt. Already fearful of their mission — not to mention hunger and thirst — it was a pretty safe bet that the moment their leader was out of sight there would be a new fear. Moses should have dealt with that fear before he left. Small wonder his failure to do so and his brother’s behavior sent the mob back to idolatry.

    But the real question before the house is this: Why did the redactor’s include this story? In my view, there’s a very Jewish reason. Back in Brooklyn it was expressed as, “Looka him! Who does he think he is?” This kind of criticism was designed to cut down to size anyone who appeared to be in a position above the reast. That’s why the Torah makes clear that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had their weaknesses — as did everone from Noah to David. Even Moses. In fact, not even G-d is perfect.

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