Ki Tisa: Rejecting Gd, Building a New One

This week’s Torah portion provides a lot of description about the priestly acts of annointing and lighting of incense, and all sorts of Temple ritual.

And then,

Moses takes a bit too long in coming down from Mount Sinai.  The Israelites get impatient.

They build the infamous Golden Calf with the assistance of none other than the High Priest himself, Aaron.

Aaron said to them, “Remove the golden earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them [those earrings] to me.”  And all the people stripped themselves of the golden earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron.  He took [them] from their hand[s], fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into a molten calf, upon which they said: “These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Shmot/Exodus 32: 2-4)

Just after being led out of slavery in Egypt, with “signs and wonders” such as the plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and seeing and hearing Revelation itself, the Israelites are quick to dismiss Gd and build a new one.

It’s scenes like this that give me trouble with the concept of yeridat hadorot, the “descent of the generations”.  Many Jewish authorities say that since Revelation at Mount Sinai, there has been a descent in the level of the Jewish people’s holiness, closeness to Gd.  I’m not so sure.  Throughout the rest of the Torah and into the Prophets and Writings, time and time again the Jewish people flagrantly violate the word of Gd, shortly after being reminded exactly what that word is.

There are no modern-day prophets (yeah, yeah, I live in Jerusalem and some people here think Gd talks to them), and the wide smattering of Jewish practice today reflects a disconnect from the true source.  It’s also nice to romanticize how holy rabbis back in the day used to live.  However, I think that this generation has got a lot going for it.  For starters, idol worship in its purest form is no longer a temptation.  I would strongly argue that it’s been replaced by other things, like money, that people turn to in order to feel that they, and not Gd, is in control of their lives and chase after at very high costs.  It just has different challenges.  The fact that Jewish people today still hold on to their tradition after so many years of disconnect and destruction says a lot.  The return to the Land of Israel and the creation of the State of Israel, while not under the rule of Halachah, Jewish law, is still HUGE.  It is much easier to deny Gd and run away from the “yoke of heaven” in times like these.

Those who denied Gd when He litearlly stood before them in the form of a thundercloud or even stood before their grandfather in a thundercloud have a lot more to reckon for, I think.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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