Parashat Ki Tisa


It had all started so well, a dramatic departure from Egypt, the ‎parting of the Reed Sea, the miracles of deliverance and ‎redemption still vibrating in the communal memory, G-d had ‎acted to set us free! Moshe had gone up to receive the ‎teachings we were now to live by, and then… tragedy strikes. ‎Just how did we get from the amazing spiritual highs of the ‎Exodus and Sinai to the fashioning of the Golden Calf? Ideas ‎abound: Some say that the apparent delay in the return of ‎Moshe from being with the Lord on the mountain caused us to ‎be impatient, and that led us to fear that we had been ‎abandoned; in desperation we turned again to the ‘gods’ of ‎Egypt, in particular here the Apis bull worshipped in Egypt. We ‎had feared the cult of this ‘deity’ because of the state power that ‎came out of it via the priests and Pharaoh. Maybe if we ‎worshipped it now we could also have that power for ourselves ‎and our nation in Moshe’s absence.

But the truth remains that this event of worshipping the Golden ‎Calf is deeply problematic; Aaron whose actions would ‎apparently make him complicit in the sin of idolatry, stays ‎unpunished by the Lord while others are judged. The mere fact ‎THAT Israel could drop to such a spiritual low so rapidly also ‎caused the sages and rabbis a real problem. But happen it did, ‎and for whatever reason (some speculate that Aaron feared for ‎his life because Hur is no longer mentioned, i.e. that the mob ‎had already killed him) Aaron fashions the idol and causes, or ‎allows the fake festival to take place (because of his ‎unwillingness to restrain the people from sin). It is a very sorry ‎state of affairs. ‎

But let’s be ‘charitable’ for a moment too. It is possible to see an ‎attempt by Aaron to steer the people towards the Lord (on the ‎surface). He says when talking about the idol now made ‎‎‘tomorrow is a feast to Adonai’. Well, it wasn’t. It was a man-‎made festival dressed up in quasi-religious garb to placate the ‎masses. This had nothing to do with the Lord, and everything to ‎do with the people themselves. It was what they felt they ‎NEEDED spiritually at that moment, like a spiritual plaster; but ‎such motivation never produces righteousness. Likewise it is ‎possible that Aaron thought that by compromising the truth with ‎error it would keep the people loyal to G-d and him. But ‎compromising truth never bought loyalty from anyone. Aaron ‎sensed, maybe even discerned the situation correctly, but rather ‎than instruct the people unto righteousness he caved in to what ‎was spiritually expedient. In fact his error came out of two areas: ‎an unwillingness to take responsibility for the people’s real ‎spiritual health, and secondly overplaying the emotional aspects ‎of the situation. He thought that by surrendering to their ‎supposed needs at that moment and generating an emotionally ‎driven response that the people would stay true to the Lord. But ‎they didn’t. It’s the truth that sets free and the truth that holds you ‎close to the Lord. Idolatry can do neither because it is fake. And ‎what we see here with the golden calf is illustrative of all idolatry: ‎it is emotion driven, what feels right, attracts the senses, taste, ‎touch, sight. Idolatry appeals to the flesh because it is in its very ‎essence sensory and seems to satisfy the immediate spiritual or ‎emotional needs of the individual. It appears as such in the cultic ‎religions in Roman and Greek times where there were temple ‎prostitutes who ‘helped’ the worship, and even in pagan religions ‎where fertility rites had to be performed etc.‎

Idolatry is connected with the basest of human drives and ‎emotions. Why so? Well it actually takes us to a puzzle that ‎sheds some light on this concept. In Psalms 115:4-8 we read ‎‎‘Those that make them are like them’. Just who is fashioning ‎whom here? The idols are just dumb objects, as the passage ‎here says, can’t speak, smell etc. And yet apparently those who ‎make them become like the idols… The idols in themselves are ‎nothing, they are not gods. Yet somehow there is an inter-‎relational thing going on according to the Torah. Isaiah talks ‎about the idols our own hands have made, and here is the clue: ‎the idol represents our own projected selves, who WE are not ‎who the supposed deity is. In fashioning an idol we create a ‎deity in our own image, expressing the things that we want, ‎need, allowing the practices that we want to do, giving the full ‎expression to the deepest and therefore often basest of human ‎drives and emotions. It is in fact carnal. Suddenly we can see ‎what the Psalmist means when he says ‘those who make them ‎are like them’, they have to be because they are the projection of ‎self and the meeting of personal needs, either emotional, quasi-‎spiritual or the desire for control and power in life. The idol as a ‎false god IS an extension of sinful and corrupted humanity in full ‎flow. That is why we are commanded to never take our eyes off ‎of our G-d, and allow HIM to mould us and not the other way ‎round.‎