Monday, March 5, 2012

Evaluating our Path

*Parshat Ki Tisa*
Shmot 30:11 – 34:35
16 Adar 5772 / March 9 – 10, 2012

Evaluating our Path
by Joel Stanley, MH International House Director

Ki Tisa is one of my favourite sections of the Torah, mainly because it’s so rich in theology, in how human beings encounter God and the divine. There are two episodes in particular that I suspect are linked, examples of that human-divine encounter gone wrong and then right.

Just to give a little refresher of where we are in the story – the Israelites are at the foot of Mount Sinai. Having left Egypt and travelled into the desert, their leader Moses has ascended the mountain to receive the word of God.

When Moses has been at the top of the mountain for longer than expected, the Children of Israel start to panic, fearing he will not return. It is at this point that they build the Golden Calf to worship. Without their regular leader they feel deprived of a connection to God and their faith starts to dissolve. They feel they need something tangible, something clear they can touch, in order to create the connection they crave.

The Golden Calf is, of course, not only an idol – it’s Judaism’s mythical archetype of idolatry and false worship. The Israelites think the Calf is what they need, but they’re only worshiping what looks and feels nice. They think it’s right for their community, but actually it’s holding them back.

This is humanity’s attempt to encounter the divine – gone wrong.

Now in contrast… After Moses has smashed the tablets in anger and returned back up the mountain, he asks to know God. He is told that no one can see God’s face directly and live. Instead Moses is put in a cleft in the rock and allowed to ‘see’ God as God passes. God then ‘passes God’s glory’ before Moses and a new name of God is proclaimed, the ‘Thirteen Attributes’ we chant on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:

“YHVH! YHVH! A god merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and truth; extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”

I think there’s an important lesson here for us as leaders of our Moishe House communities. Moses receives a true vision of God because he remains open to mystery and puts his ego aside. He doesn’t just worship the shiny and fancy. In the case of the Golden Calf, the Israelites’ motivation is good but they project their personal needs and conditioned assumptions onto their act of communal creation.

Is our community-making driven by ego or service? How do we know if the ingredients we are putting into our communities are the right ones? I believe the proof is in the results, those attributes we repeat on the High Holy Days. Moses gets to see the true nature of the divine. If we go about creating community in the right way, we should know we’re doing a good job because we’ll see the same things: mercy and compassion, kindness and truth.


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