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Parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

“He said, ‘Not a sound shouting strength nor a sound shouting weakness; a sound of distress do I hear!” (Exodus 32:18)

Parashat Ki Tisa is an epic disaster. The Israelites, who should be on a spiritual high after the revelation of the Torah, flip out when Moses takes longer than expected to descend from Mt. Sinai with the Tablets of the Law. They plead with Aaron to make them something they can worship, the Golden Calf enters Jewish history, and nothing is ever the same.

The episode of the Golden Calf actually appears twice in the parasha, or portion: once as it happens (Ex. 32:1-20), and once as Aaron describes to Moses what happened (Ex. 32:21-25). Aaron’s version (What do you want from me? It just popped out of the fire!) seems to be an attempt by Aaron to avoid blame.

The rabbis’ reaction to Aaron’s response raises important and timely questions about truth and responsibility. They rule: when Ki Tisa is read publicly, the actual account is both read and translated (back then someone translated the Torah into Aramaic as it was read so everyone would understand), while Aaron’s account is read, but NOT translated (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 25a,b). This effectively hides from the community Aaron’s “spinning” the story in his favor, which the rabbis explain, gives an opening to unbelievers to deny God’s unique authority.

So Aaron tries to avoid responsibility and the rabbis propose silence in response to shameful events; both behaviors could be “ripped from the headlines” rather than from classic texts. But the current moment teaches a different lesson: only open discussion yields the truth and only truth leads to healing. The Golden Calf lows through history; maybe now we’re finally listening.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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