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Cantor's Comment - Parshat Ki Tisa                            February 19, 2022 - 18 Adar I 5782

02/18/2022 08:58:40 AM


The Sin of the Golden Calf represents the lowest and darkest point for the Israelite people in the Torah narrative.  It strikes us as completely baffling.  How could the Israelites commit such a grievous sin against God?  No less, the 10 commandments had been given by God Himself only days earlier.  Why would they?  How could they?  How could we?

Like airing dirty laundry, the story of the Golden Calf is not one that we, as Jews, want to talk about.  It makes us feel ashamed to think how badly we failed to live up to our commitment to be a holy people, a people of law, justice, mercy, equality and sanctity.  And even though we know that things in the Torah manage to work out in the end for the Israelites, we are still left in the moment wondering how we can possibly explain the actions of our ancestors.

The explanation from our sages is given with a sigh.  Our ancestors were slaves, worth nothing more than the strength of our backs to Pharoah in Egypt.  Robbed of humanity, believing that they had been abandoned by God, the Hebrew slaves understood ‘holiness’ to be nothing more than an empty word.  Suddenly, it appeared that God had not forgotten them after all.  God worked miracles beyond human comprehension, God became the sword and shield that leapt to the Israelites’ defense, and overnight the Israelites were free…to be a nation sanctified with laws and statutes, a history, an inheritance, a culture.  God offered more still; a relationship, spirituality, divine purpose… in a word, ‘holiness’.  Our great rabbis teach that the reason for our catastrophic fall was that we came too far, too quickly.  We lacked the maturity to moderate ourselves, the humility to keep our ambitions in check, and the experience of tradition and wisdom to balance out our newly rekindled spirit.  And so we craved a God that was not ethereal and elusive, but physical, tangible and close—an objectifiable God to which we could easily orient our devotion and gratitude as it boiled over; a God of material, of instinct, of raw unbridled emotion, a God of no demand, expectation or accountability, a God in whom we could lose ourselves, and lose ourselves we did.

To be mortal is to be breakable.  Each one of us, capable of the deepest insights, the noblest integrity, or the most generous heart, we can all break when pushed to our limits.  Over the last two years, our community has suffered its share of heartbreaking bereavements, and mourners have been unable to grieve in the traditional way that the Jewish people have always sought solace.  And yet, I am inspired by the way that each and every time we have needed it, we have refused to give in, seeking every avenue we can dream of to come together in spirit if not in person, continuing to share the burden of grief among our community, bringing new light wherever we find a flame that has gone out.  Each of us alone may be mortal.  Each of us alone may be breakable.  The wisdom of the 3500 years since the Golden Calf has taught us, however, that wherever we have family, friends and community, we are never truly alone.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mon, July 4 2022 5 Tammuz 5782