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Parshat Ki Tissa; The Sin that Keeps on Giving

03/02/2021 05:12:35 PM


Rabbi Rudin

golden calf

When the people saw that Moshe delayed descending Mount Sinai, they went to Aharon: Make us a god that will lead us, for the man Moshe who took us out of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. 

Ever since then, in every sin that Israel has committed, in every act of repentance, there is a little bit of the Golden Calf

-Rashi (12th century commentator, quoting the Midrash)


Will we every be absolved of that panicked, reasonless fear and catastrophic loss of faith?  Fresh out of Egypt, eating the miraculous mannah and drinking the miraculous water of Miriam's well, right after hearing G-d's voice speaking to us on Sinai, how could we have fallen so far, so fast?


That question has come up many, many times in human history.  How could intelligent, compassionate people have lost their way so completely? 

How could Europeans have believed that Jews drank Christian blood for their Passover Seder?  How could developed societies have believed that any human being could be less than human?  How could the German people, one of the most scientific, artistic, enlightened cultures in history have embraced the unthinkable?  What is the brain hack, the moral short circuit that can cause us to abandon our very humanity and kiss the Golden Calf, the shiny artifact of falsehood?

If it can happen to the Dor Deah, the Generation of the Believers, who had faced down Egypt with faith alone, then no one is invulnerable.  

The first Rabbi, Hillel, in Mishna says, "don't believe in yourself completely until the day of your death."   We must be relentelssly self-searching and self-critical.  We must never stop entertaining the possibility that we are wrong.   Not to weaken our resolve, but to demand that we constantly refine ourselves, challenge ourselves, better ourselves.  The hallmark of extremism is blind, unquestioning certainty in one's own rightness.  

With all of the veneration and love with which we hold the Torah, the Rambam warns that we must not see it or any holy object as something we worship.  Just as the G-d of Israel has no image or likeness, we must not allow any human construct to take the place of our constant quest for absolute truth.  So often, I find that people who reject belief in G-d are really rejecting the idea of G-d that they entertained as children rather than stubbornly working to achieve an authentic faith that they can embrace as adults.  

And so the sin of the Golden Calf is a check on our own certainties.  It is a reminder to be earnest and honest in our own self-reflection.  Are we confusing the map for the territory- our idea of how things are for how they really are?  Are we confusing the human finger pointing at the moon for the actual moon?  There are truths that are, in Jefferson's words, self-evident, but we must never stop seeking them. 

Shema Yisrael: The faith of Israel challenges us to stare directly into the vortex of the unknowable, not as an abyss of chaos but as the Divine Voice calling us to a higher life.  Only constant questioning, rising, evolving and self-monitoring and correcting can help us ascend the Sinai of our innermost selves. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Wed, October 20 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782