Parshat Ki Tissa
2000By now, in Chapter 32 of Exodus, we have been through great highs and lows as a Jewish people. We have witnessed miracles and built the tabernacle. But now, as we wait for Moses to come down from the mountain, we build the golden calf. With it, we realize just how frail and vulnerable we are as a people and recognize how we are searching for connection, for relationship, for something greater than ourselves. It never changes, does it?
God is Online
Now, when the people saw that Moses was shamefully late in coming down from the mountain, the people assembled against Aaron and said to him, "Arise, make us a god who will go before us, for Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!"
Aaron said to them, "Break off the gold rings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring [them] to me."
All the people broke off the gold rings that were in their ears, and brought [them] to Aaron. He took [them] from their hand, fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf. Then they said, "This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!"
When Aaron saw [this] he built a slaughter-site before it. And Aaron called out and said, "Tomorrow is a festival to God!" They [started] early on the morrow, offered offerings-up and brought shalom-offerings; the people sat down to eat and drink and proceeded to revel.
Your Torah Navigator
1. What motivated our people to build the golden calf?
2. Who was most to blame and why?Moses for being late?Aaron for organizing the people and building the calf?Our people for participating and giving our rings and jewelry to the deed?
3. How do we reconcile the making of the golden calf with the second commandment "not to make a 'carved image' or any figure that is ...on the earth beneath" (20:4)?
4. "Some scholars have tried to soften the sin of the golden calf by explaining that the Israelites did not view it as an idol but rather merely as a representation of the divine" (from Everett Fox's edition of The Five Books of Moses, p.440). Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
5. Can you liken the golden calf to anything we have today?
Alternate View: Another Golden Calf?
Recently, some leaders of certain ultra-Orthodox sects in Israel signed a proclamation warning of the danger of the Internet in the home. They do not accept the unbridled freedom of the Internet as a positive human value. If we extend their argument, we could say that the Internet is, for them, the "golden calf" of our generation. With the Internet we are allowed to "take matters into our own hands," just as our people did when we made the golden calf while waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain.
These individuals feel that the Internet allows our yetser ha-ra, our evil impulse, to take over, making it easier and more convenient for people to engage in "unholy" behavior. The Internet, they say, is a tool for people to secretly stray from Jewish life and perform acts contrary to the beliefs of the Torah. They believe it is a way for secular life to infiltrate the world and shut out God.
Your Internet Navigator
1. What is your reaction to the proclamation made by these groups?
2. Does freedom always lead to our evil impulse taking over?
3. What are the positive aspects of the Internet?
4. Is it possible to find community on the Internet?
5. What do we do with the notion that Jews can study Torah, even practice tikkun olam on the Internet?
6.Rather than viewing the Internet as a modern-day 'golden calf', is it possible to perceive the Internet as leading to the divine?
7. Can we find God on the Internet?
The Internet makes things easier. Now with the click of a button we are connected. All the things we once only wished we could do, we can now do. Fight hunger, learn Torah, meet new people, possibly even connect with others in deeper ways than we could in person. Yes, the Internet brings about freedom and with it, temptation. And yet, the Internet allows us to go "face to face" with the world in ways we could not do before. What an irony!
We still await Moses coming down from the mountain. Even today, we seek out God's presence in our lives. Until we know God for sure, maybe we can search the Internet.
What an amazing world.
Perhaps God is in it.