Drash Cards for Ki Tissa (5776)
By Marc Mangel
• Today is the day that we read about the Golden Calf. It is also the 50th anniversary of the march between Selma and Montgomery in which police and state troopers attacked the marchers. It lead to Abraham Joshua Heschel walking arm in arm with Martin Luther King two weeks later, one of President Johnson’s finest speeches (on the back table), and the Voting Rights Act.
• Is it coincidence that we read about the Golden Calf on this auspicious anniversary? Perhaps. But, as the great detective Nero Wolfe says “in a world of cause and effect, all coincidence is suspect”. I decided to investigate the connections.
•First, to the Golden Calf. What did the people want? Ch 32, v1: they ask Aaron to make “Elohim asher yalchu lefanaynu”. Moses has disappeared and they want “Elohim” who will walk ahead of them..
- “Elohim” is often translated as gods, of course. But in the Rebbe’s chumash – based on Rashi – it is translated as leaders. And in other chumashim it is translated as ‘judges’.
- The people want a leader, not a god. So how did they end up so mislead?
- The fourth Rebbe taught that the mixed multitudes convinced the Israelites that what had happened at the Exodus was a battle in the constellations in which Taurus – the bull/calf – defeated Aires – the Ram and so the leader that Aaron had made for them was really a God. In the Rebbe’s Chumash Ch 32 v 4 is interpolated with “the mixed multitude said “This Israel is your God”.
• Still, we can ask, how could this happen to people who saw the plagues and splitting of the Sea. I leave that to Nehama Leibowitz who wrote “One single religious experience, however profound, was not capable of changing people from idol worshippers into monotheists. Only a prolonged discipline in the precepts of Torah could do that”
• What about Aaron? All the commentaries struggle to understand his behavior. And in Devarim 9:20 we read “HaShem was very angry with Aaron”.
• Here I want to riff off of the theme of Bob’s drash last week, in which we learned that the Cohen wore the names of the tribes on his breast plate to remind him constantly that he was there to serve the people.
- Perhaps Aaron learned this lesson too well and too quickly and without filtering. When the people asked for a new leader, he obliged when he should have behaved differently.
- Second, Selma. We live in an imperfect democracy. It was imperfect in 1790 when only white males could vote. It was imperfect in 1865 when white and black males could vote. It was imperfect in the early 20th century when women were given the vote but so many people were prevented from voting. And it is still imperfect today — we are far from one citizen, one vote (or in Chicago, one citizen, many votes).
- But this is the democracy we live in. And Selma – both the event and the movie — remind us that it is our job to make this democracy better. We must aim for the ideal.
- The Golden calf reminds us that we live in an imperfect spiritual world. Because of our own free will, we often do not do what God desires of us. But at the same time it is up to us to make this world a dwelling place for God by aiming for the spiritual ideal.
• We may fall short in both the secular and spiritual world, but can never stop trying