Parashat Ki Tisa¬†‚ÄstErev Shabbat March 10, 2023
Week of  4 to 11 March 2023
Torah portion: Exodus 30:11-34:35  Haftarah: Ezek. 36:16-38
Theme: Presence and mercy of one true God

In¬†today‚Äôs Torah portion, we learn about the building of the portable tabernacle (the¬†mishkan) and the incident of the golden calf. We get to reflect on our belief in¬†the¬†one true God and in his grace of giving us second chances to be his children.¬†When the Israelites make the covenant with God¬†on¬†Sinai, they say: ‚ÄúWe will do and we will hear‚ÄĚ (Exodus 24:7).¬†They profess¬†¬†their total faith in¬†the¬†one God and promise to follow God‚Äôs laws.¬†¬†But not for long.

When Moses is delayed on Mount Sinai¬†when¬†receiving¬†God‚Äôs instruction, the people become impatient for his return.¬†¬†Fearful and confused, they demand that Aaron make them a god ‚Äúwho can go before‚ÄĚ them. With the gold and jewelry collected, Aaron makes¬†¬†a golden calf.¬†¬†Moses¬†¬†is shocked when he descends from Mount Sinai¬†¬†to¬†¬†see the people happily dancing¬†around the idol. The people totally disobey the commandment against making idols as they backslide¬†into¬†performing¬†Egyptian idol worship. The¬†¬†idolatry and apostasy make God consider annihilating the ‚ÄĚstiff-necked‚ÄĚ people (Exod.¬†32:9) and¬†¬†starting¬†a new nation with Moses.

The tragic golden calf incident is considered a rupture, a discontinuity with the past. It is told about¬†¬†midway, like an exception, in the long narrative on the building of the tabernacle (mishkan) which constitutes¬†about a third of the book of Exodus.¬†¬†This has prompted some commentators to say that the narrative is written out of chronological order. The instructions to build the tabernacle¬†¬†are given¬†after the incident of the golden calf;¬†¬†and, the tabernacle ‚Äúwas only¬†¬†taken as a full atonement for the sin.‚ÄĚ Others say the events may have occurred as they are presented.¬†¬†God gives the command and the plans to build the tabernacle, but the people commit sin, and they begin to build it only after they were forgiven.¬†¬†Like a defining moment, they say that before the golden calf, the tabernacle was primarily a place to do worship and service like the bringing of the offerings, the lighting of the¬†menorah, the burning of the incense, etc. They cite that the first instructions regarding oil for the lamp, the priestly vestments, the¬†ephod¬†and others refer to what would be used for offerings.¬†But after the golden calf, the tabernacle serves as a token¬†of¬†the full atonement for the sin:¬†with the gold of the¬†Mishkan¬†to atone for the gold from which the calf was made (for example, the mercy seat is to be made of pure gold as well as the two cherubim).

It is stated however in the Hebrew Scriptures that the tabernacle is not time-bound.¬†¬†It is to be a place where God‚Äôs Divine presence¬†(Shechinah)¬†could dwell in the world. God instructs Israel, ‚ÄúAnd they will make for me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell among them‚Ä̬†(Exod.¬†25:8).¬†This¬†Torah¬†portion ends with Moses getting the second set of Ten Commandments;¬†but achieving renewal after¬†the¬†rupture did not come easily.¬†¬†Among other things, Moses had¬†to bargain hard with God. His earnest plea has¬†led to¬†the most famous and important theological statement¬†in the Hebrew Scriptures:¬†¬†‚ÄúThe LORD! The LORD! A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness. . .‚ÄĚ (Exod.¬†34:6).

Today, the tragic story of the golden calf teaches us to do our best to affirm¬†the words of the¬†‚ÄėShema¬†prayer‚Äô:¬†Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad¬†(the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.),¬†to continually affirm God‚Äôs presence and find ways to hear and to do¬†God‚Äôswords in our daily lives.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How have you experienced a ‚Äúgolden calf‚ÄĚ incident in your life?  2. What are ways ‚Äėto hear and do‚Äô in your day-to-day life and with your family, colleagues or community?

Bibliography: ETZ Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York, 2001); Sarna, Exodus:  The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS (New York/Philadelphia, 1991);  https://wrj.org/learning/torah-study/torah-commentary/parashat-shmot

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat Kol Alumna, July 2014

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