Monday, February 10, 2014

Angry Moshe Blows His Top

Parshat Ki Tisa
Shmot 30:11 – 34:35
15 Adar 1 5774 / Feb. 14 –15, 2014

Angry Moshe Blows His Top
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

If there is a portion of the Torah where Moshe seems to be out of his mind, this is it! Moshe is on the mountain and everything is going fine. He is learning Torah with God and crafting a timeless text together. When they are done, God tells Moshe that the people have gone bananas. They are worshiping a false god and God will kill the whole nation and start fresh with Moshe’s kin. Moshe “leaps” into action and begs for the people’s forgiveness. He convinces God that it would be very un-God like for the people to be destroyed now. After all, they've come so far. And would we really want a rumor spreading around the world that the Almighty God freed the Jews only to kill them in the desert. No one wants that! God sees the reason in Moshe’s words and relents. The Jewish people will be spared.

This all seems great. Gold star for Moshe.

Now Moshe goes down the mountain hefting the first set of stone tablets. And he hears … debauchery! A raucous celebration that can only mean one thing – God was not kidding and the poop has really hit the fan! He approaches the camp and sees the Israelites dancing around this golden statue of a calf. They are singing around it and pointing to it proclaiming, “This is our new god!”

Moshe has already saved the people from destruction. He could have returned to the community, smashed the baby cow and set the people straight with a strong reprimand. Instead he seems to go ballistic. He breaks the tablets and grinds the calf to dust making it into an atonement cocktail for the people to drink. Then he rallies the people who are still “with God” and orders these zealots to slay their brothers who refused to come with Moshe. They killed about 3,000 people! In the text, he gave this order in the name of God, though it is not evident from the text that God actually told the people to kill their own flesh and blood.

While Moshe learned to sway God towards forgiveness, he did not seem to model God’s ability to forgive.
As I read Moshe’s story, I get a sense of a man who carries a burden that is too great. He is a leader that is broken by his responsibility. From this story it is very clear to me why Moshe could not continue on with the people to Israel. I hate to come down on Moshe. I would not want to walk even one step in his shoes. For me the story brings a lesson as a leader. Losing one’s head in anger is not a time for action. It is a time for reflecting on why there is so much angry.


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