Telephone Torah Study: The Golden Calf
The infamous Golden Calf story highlights this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa (Ex. 30:11-34:35). Join in on our weekly Telephone Torah Study (Thursday 4-5pm) to learn more on this week’s portion: Dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.
The Union of Reform Judaism offers up two interesting commentaries on Ki Tisa: ‘When Moses Is with God for 40 Days and 40 Nights, It’s Back to the Idols’ by Peter S. Knobel and ‘Take Two Tablets…Please!’ by Jeffrey Salkin:
Parashat Ki Tisa recounts the incident of the Golden Calf in a multilayered narrative about faith and leadership. In Exodus, chapter 32, we read that Moses remained on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. In his absence, the Israelites demanded that Aaron fashion an idol so God would be present with them. Aaron created a Golden Calf, probably modeling it on statues of the Canaanite god El1, who is depicted in the form of a bull.
The irony of this incident is that the people already had experienced the invisible God who led them out of Egypt. When the Golden Calf story takes place, they are waiting for Moses to return from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, which explicitly prohibit depicting God in a physical form. One might argue this story is out of place because the Ten Commandments were given in a prior text, in Exodus, Chapter 20. Or we can resort to the Rabbinic interpretive dictum, ein mukdam um’uchar batorah, “there is no earlier or later in the Torah” (see Rashi on Exodus 31:18). While this teaching solves the chronology problem, it tells us little about the meaning of the story.
For a better understanding, let’s take a closer look at the text. When the people insist that Aaron make a god who will go before them, they give this reason: “for that man Moses, who brought us out from the land of Egypt – we do not know what happened to him” (Exodus 32:1). Why are Moses’s whereabouts so important to them? Why are they so dependent upon Moses?
1. As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. (Ex. 32:19)
2. [God said to Moses] “and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by.” (Ex. 33:22)
3. So Moses came down from Mount Sinai. And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact. Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with God. (Ex.34:29)
In 1985, Israeli singer Ehud Banay, who was very successful at the time, has released a song based on the story of the Golden Calf: “We are here in the heart of the desert / thirsty for lively water / and you are there on the top of a mountain / above the clouds / no signal / no sign / for so many days / in a closed circle / serounding the golden calf…”
The song made it to the top 10 in the Hebrew music chart in Israel in 1986
Listen to the song here: