Torah Portion: Ki Tisa (When You Take)(Sh’mot) Exodus 30-34
Haftorah Reading: I Kings 18:1-39
This Torah portion begins with the taking of the census of all the people of G-d and the paying of what became known as the Temple tax. However the pivotal events talked about in this section are the incidents of the golden calf and the giving of the two sets of tablets of the Law. The first set of laws was broken by Moshe when he returned from his time with G-d on top of Mt. Sinai.
Let us look at these events and see what we might be able to learn for our own spiritual lives. First, let’s look at the two sets of tablets. In Exodus 32:16 we read these words about the first set, “Now the tablets were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d engraved on the tablets.” These were perhaps the most holy objects in all of history from beginning to end. It was totally the work of G-d. Yet, soon they would be broken on the ground when Moshe returned to find the people worshipping the calf. In Exodus 34:1-4 we read that the second set of tables were cut from the rock by Moshe and then written on by the hand of G-d. So we have the paradox of the first set completely broken, completely holy, while the second set, the joint work of both G-d and man, surviving. How and why would this be?
Maybe to help we can look at this as two encounters between man and G-d. The first being wholly from above. The second encounter being a meeting between G-d and man where man was involved. In the first encounter, that is totally from above, we see where G-d suspended the natural order of things but in and of itself did not change human nature. Man had no active part in it except to benefit from it. While it lasted it was overwhelming but only while it lasted. In an earlier event we see in the splitting of the Sea everything was done by G-d. Exodus 14:13-14. The people were commanded to do nothing. Yet within days the Israelites began to complain – no water, no food, let us go back to Egypt. Now compare this to Exodus 17:9 where the people took up arms and fought the Amalakites. After this encounter we see almost no further complaining when facing conflict. The difference between the two situations being the people’s participation. The battles fought for us seldom change us. The battles we fight, with G-d’s help, do change us.
Another example would be the difference between Mt. Sinai and the Mishkan or Tabernacle. The sanctity of Mt. Sinai was momentary, while the Mishkan was permanent. The first being solely G-d’s doing while the Mishkan was made by man at G-d’s direction. After Sinai the people made the calf. After constructing the Mishkan they made no more idols, at least until they entered the Land. Again the difference between things done for us and times we have a share in the doing. When things are done for us they may change us for the moment but when we participate with G-d it can cause a lifetime change.
From these I think we see how G-d sees us. He expects, He waits for us to join with Him in changing our own life and the world around us. It is a spiritual fact that we are to grow by doing. We are not supposed to just go to meetings or stay passive but to join with the Father in changing ourselves and the world. Our faith is not a spectator event but one that requires our participation.
Without this participation we can easily fall into worshipping our own golden calf. We often have the tendency to judge others like the people of Israel here worshipping the calf. For sure they sinned and were judged by G-d for their sin. But rather than judge them I think it is important for us to look at this as to what it is saying to us about our own life. Think about their situation. Moshe was gone, the one who had done so for them. Suddenly they felt alone. Who knew if he would return. They (we) needed something concrete, something visual to make them feel safe. They settled on a calf made of gold.
Psalms 106: 19-20 gives King David’s description of what they did. They put the calf in the place of G-d. Suddenly there were alone! What do we do when we feel alone or even abandoned? If we have not worked at building our faith, our relationship with G-d we are highly likely to find our own golden calf. It might be someone or something who can carry us and make us feel loved. All the while the Lover of our soul is waiting for us to take that step to join our lives and efforts totally with Him. May we all know Him so deeply, so personally, that we never rely on our own personal golden calf.