02 March 2024

Torah portion : Exodus 30:11-34:35   Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

Theme: Covenantal Expectations Reveal Human Fragility

In Exodus 30:11–34:35, we have seen a narrative unfolding, intricately weaving themes of covenantal expectations and human fragility. The covenant between God and the Israelites is central to this spacious passage, revealing the divine expectations of the chosen people and their subsequent struggles with human frailty. A closer look at the passage reveals key passages that point to the intersection of covenantal expectations and human fragility, shaping the unfolding spectacle of Israel’s relationship with God. The beginning of the passage shows us the covenantal dynamics and expectations of God. A call for a census tax and the construction of the Tabernacle gives us an idea of God’s covenant with His chosen people, Israel. The directives for the census tax demonstrate a communal commitment to the sanctuary. It is an “offering to the Lord (Ex 30: 13).” It reflects God’s intention for collective responsibility and participation in the divine narrative. The building of the tent (Tabernacle), a dwelling place for God among His people, embodies divine presence and mercy. God desires to be with His people, demonstrating an intimate involvement in their journey. But one of the defining moments in this whole narrative is the golden calf event. It is an event, not just an incident. It is intentional. It reveals the weakness of the people’s collective will and that of Aaron, who easily gives in to the demands of some individuals. Such an event illuminates the tension between human frailty, covenantal expectations, and divine mercy. In the absence of Moses, the people returned to their old ‘form of life,’ leading them to transgress the very core of the covenant.

God’s response is a nuanced interplay of justice and mercy. It is seen in God’s response to Moses – a mediator and intercessor – and the event itself. God’s initial reaction is anger. He desires to punish those audacious, “stiff-necked” people led by Aaron. But Moses intervenes and intercedes to God, reminding Him of His promise and covenantal commitment to His servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Ex. 32:13). This interaction between God and Moses reminds us of the human power or capacity to influence divine responses through genuine and sincere repentance. But when Moses saw the gravity of the situation, he could not hold his anger, and through a symbolic act of breaking the tablets (Ex 32:19), he breached the covenant. He, again, intercedes, and God forbids. In this second event, we find how profound the connection between intercession and merciful reprieve is.

The golden calf event sets the stage for a remarkable demonstration of divine mercy and forgiveness. God reveals Himself to Moses in a unique encounter, proclaiming His attributes, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34: 6-7). God’s self-revelation becomes the foundation for the renewal of the covenant. So, Moses has to carve new tablets. It symbolizes a fresh start as an effect of loving forgiveness. It cannot be just merely a restoration but a re-creation, symbolizing a divine commitment to renew the covenant despite the woundedness or brokenness caused by human frailty. The renewal becomes a climactic moment here. It shows God’s genuine and passionate commitment to forgive His people and to remain faithful to them – a sign of God’s gratuitous and unconditional love. Fidelity precedes forgiveness. Such is God’s nature. His divine action symbolizes His eternal spring of compassion and mercy. With this, He clearly shows His distance from us. Compared to Him, we can easily give up on people who are ‘stiff-necked,’ obstinate, incorrigible, and untrustworthy.

Covenant expectations reveal to us our humanity. We are fragile. We can easily break promises, violate rules, destroy others, etc. The covenant reminds us of relationality, without which we cannot make sense of the values we hold dear. Our relationship with God and others reveals our characteristics. Human frailty does not make sense without an Other who serves as a mirror of us. God – as an Other – is our mirror, too, who lets us see our inner condition, intentions, and character. In several passages, we find God’s divine mercy and forgiveness, which serve as a golden thread that weaves through the tapestry of Israel’s relationship with God. The narrative reminds us of God’s genuine portrayals – someone who is just yet merciful, demanding fidelity yet eternally willing to forgive. The narrative also summons us to reflect on our self-understanding of forgiveness, mercy, and human frailty. In this biblical narrative, the echoes of divine forgiveness resound through the ages, offering hope, redemption, and an enduring call to live faithfully within the covenant relationship with a merciful God.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Why do people return to the ‘old ways? 2. How do we learn to forgive? 3. How did you feel God’s forgiveness? 4. What about your frailties? How do you feel about them?

Bibliography: Rabbi Loren, Exodus 30: 11-34:35 Parasha Kee Tisa, https://shema.com/exodus-3011-3435-parasha-kee-tisa-432/

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Ben Carlo N. AtimPhilippines, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2022


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