Ki Tissa 5769

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Becky Schisler

March 14, 2009/18 Adar 5769

Parashat Ki Tisa is filled with significance – in it is the story of the Golden Calf, which leads to Moses breaking the first set of stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, as well as the source for Vishamru and the divine Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (which we say on the High Holidays). What sticks out immediately is the Israelite’s radical turn from monotheism to idolatry. The Israelites built the calf as a response to Moses’ belated return from Mount Sinai – they had no idea what happened to him, or if he was even alive. They assumed that because he was late, and lateness shows humanity and weakness, he and his God should not be trusted.

The Israelites had an easier time trusting the calf because an idol, as an inanimate object, was physical – they could see and touch it. Unlike Moses’ omnipotent God, a God which did not take form or appear to them physically, the calf was easy to focus their attentions on. And, unlike Moses, the calf would not let them down – the calf would not be late in descending from the mountain, because the calf wouldn’t have ascended the mountain in the first place – the calf wouldn’t do much of anything at all (except be swiftly destroyed by Moses, later on).

The Israelites needed the Golden Calf, because it was physical, materialistic, and real; they had proof of its existence, because it was right in front of them. Perhaps this is the “sin” that God speaks of later on in the parsha, when he says that the sins of the Israelites will be felt by generations to come. Indeed, it has been felt by generations to come – this need for proof, this inherent doubt, is very much alive today. This is not to say that today, people idolize golden calves when they have doubts about God; however, our society does perhaps place a little too much emphasis on materialism.

It is also interesting to note that after the whole ordeal, Moses asked God to reveal Himself to him – Moses felt that he was entitled to see the face of God after everything he had done, and perhaps he, too, needed to “see” God in order to continue carrying out His commandments. Though God refuses to show his face to Moses, he does agree to “pass before him,” and it is here that Moses is witness to the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy.” Obviously, even though Moses was not able to behold God’s “face,” what he did see was not disappointing; from then on, his face shown with radiance.

Now, this is not to say that we should not seek “proof” of God’s existence – even Abraham did not trust in God blindly. He believed in God because he found corruption in the idolatry and paganism that surrounded him, and virtues he could relate to in the monotheistic path. Abraham did not have physical proof of God, but he did have proof of what God was not – God was not an idol, made of clay or gold, because these idols fostered corruption.

Proof of God’s existence is not a clay idol, or a golden calf – it is not something you can touch. It is something unique to every single person, as everyone’s concept of God is different. Such proof cannot and should not be sought after with impatience, distrust, or a fervent, desperate desire; it should only be pursued with an open mind, and open heart, and endless patience. Shabbat Shalom U’mevorach, and Shavua Tov USY!