Torah Commentary on Ki Tisa by Bettijane Eisenpreis

Bettijane Eisenpreis

Parashah for March 2, 2024

Torah Commentary by Bettijane Eisenpreis

The Lord spoke unto Moses, ”Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the Land of Egypt, have acted  basely….They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low unto it and sacrificed to it, saying, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.’”

Exodus 32:7-8

This commentary is not about the story of the Golden Calf. We have known that story since we were children.  Because Moses stayed up on Mount Sinai for 40 days, receiving the Ten Commandments, the Children of Israel became fearful that he was gone forever and they had no leader. So they made a golden calf and worshipped it, and Aaron did not discourage them. When the Lord and Moses became aware of their transgression, there was literally Hell to pay.

In focusing on that story, I want to talk about pronouns. The Lord says to Moses “YOUR people, whom YOU brought out of the Land of Egypt, have acted basely.” Over and over again, our liturgy refers to “the Lord OUR God, who led US out of the Land of Egypt.” Yet here, God is only too willing to assign the whole nation to Moses. Moses doesn’t accept this dubious gift. He replies, “Let not Your anger blaze forth against Your people.”

Strange? Not at all. As parents, we have experienced the same feelings attributed here to God and Moses. On his Bar Mitzvah day, your son ascends the bimah dressed in his handsome new suit. He reads his parashah flawlessly, and you say to yourself, “That’s my boy!” But three days later, when he has made his little sister cry and spilled a whole jar of peanuts all over his bedroom floor, you very well may say to your spouse, “Look what your child has done now!” The Bible, after all, has survived all these years because it is so relatable to our experience.

Why are God and Moses handing the Children of Israel off to one another? They are doing it because they are angry. Another reason the Bible has survived is that it deals in human emotions, like love, fear and above all, anger. God is so angry at His Children’s building a golden calf that He threatens to destroy them and put the descendants of Moses in their place. Here it is Moses who calms God down. But ultimately, his own anger causes Moses to hit the rock to draw out water when God commanded him only to speak to the rock. In turn, that act bars Moses from entering the Promised Land.

In our High Holy Day liturgy, we speak of God as “slow to anger.” Slow, yes, but He does get angry at the failures of us mere fallible mortals. That slowness is balanced by His being quick to forgive.

Would we want a God who never got angry? No, of course not. Anger is an understandable emotion. We must get angry – at deception, injustice, or cruelty. But anger must be proportional – it must be aimed at the right targets and balanced by forgiveness.

Above all, we must not exclude those who trespass from the human family. It is WE and OUR children who transgress, but also we who can repent and be pardoned. Yes, he is your son both when he recites a perfect parshah and when he torments his sister. And he will be yours when you take him into your arms and forgive him.

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