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

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us’…” (Exodus 32:1)

This week’s Torah perspective comes from  Cippi Harte, Vice President of Program Services and Mandel Center for Jewish Education

Parashat Ki Tisa has Moses up on top of Mount Sinai receiving the word of God and the Israelite people down at the bottom waiting and wondering.  Impatient and increasingly afraid, they take up a collection and make a golden calf to worship.  In hindsight, maybe not the best decision.

Jews throughout the ages have speculated about those two conversations:  the one on top of the mountain and the one on the bottom—and the distance between them.  Moses, of course, had it easy.  First of all, he already believed.  Second, God was right there, talking with him.  The Israelites had it much harder:  without a developed belief, they couldn’t imagine God talking to them.  So they made a God they didn’t have to imagine.

Rabbi Laura Geller, Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills tells a wonderful story of being at the gym and having someone tell her,” I don’t believe in God.”  Rabbi Geller responded, “So tell me about this God you don’t believe in.”   And the person proceeded to describe the God she didn’t believe in. No lack of imagination there.

When I was young and in Hebrew school my teachers asked me to imagine God as an older man with a long white beard sitting in a huge wooden chair. But it didn’t work.  I never could get my brain around that.  Years later, an assignment in a journal-writing workshop helped me imagine a God I could know, or at least connect to.  For me, journal writing was a way to explore my inner landscape to understand the bigger world around me.

We can read Ki Tisa as a story about God, or a story about leadership, or a story about obedience. Ultimately, though, it’s a story about imagination.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


David Ackerman | Director, Mandel Center for Jewish Education

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