Ki Tissa 5771
Posted on March 23, 2011
by Alex Krule
After a few parshiot of laws given by God, our narrative continues this week with the infamous Golden Calf incident. When the Israelites become inpatient with Moshe taking a long time on Har Sinai, they decide to have Aharon make a Golden Calf, a “god to go before [them]” (Shemot 32:1). As a result of this event, God decides that all of the direct participants (a total of about 3,000 Israelite men) must die. This event comes at a great disappointment to us when we read it. How could our ancestors lose faith so easily in God a month after the revelation at Har Sinai? While many dispute how many of the Ten Commandments the Israelites heard, the consensus is that our ancestors heard at least the first one – “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, from the House of Slavery” (Shemot 20:2). However, as we will soon learn, this is one of the first times of many in which the Israelites will rebel from the will of God.
While the Golden Calf itself is a terribly low point in our people’s history, there is still something very powerful and inspiring that transpires in this parasha. When God tells Moshe to return to the bottom of the mountain to see what the Israelites had done, He tells Moshe that He intends to wipe out the “stiff-necked” nation and make a “great nation” from Moshe. However, Moshe does something only a true leader of the Israelites could do: he argues with God. The only other people who have ever argued with God to this extent were Avraham and Ya’akov! Moshe insists that God not wipe the Israelites out, calling Him out on His covenant with our forefathers and to consider what the Egyptians would think of God if he rescued them from Egypt only to kill the nation in the desert (Shemot 32:11-13).
What does this act of Moshe teach us? We must stand up for what we believe is right – no matter how strong the opposition. Indeed, what force is there that is stronger than God? While this part of our people’s narrative is certainly full of disappointment and regret, potentially discouraging us, we also read of the inspirational leadership qualities of Moshe. While I don’t think that any of us would be willing to remind God of His obligations in the way that Moshe does, we must always try to stand for our beliefs; for what is right. Perhaps if someone had spoken up when the Israelites pressured Aharon into building the Golden Calf, the lives of 3,000 Israelites could have been spared.