A Biblical Tragedy
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he parsha of Ki Tissa is a
powerful presentation of
numerous spiritual ideas,
lessons in human and
heavenly emotions and aspira-
tions, and the development of
characters in crisis.
The curtain of our "tragedy"
rises in almost Hitchcock style.
Half the screen presents us with
the majestic dialogue between
God and His servant Moshe dis-
cussing the holiness concept of
the Jewish People.
The holy Shabbat, the only
holyday mentioned by name in
the Ten Commandments the
Bnei Yisra'el had only just re-
cently heard directly from God
Himself at Sinai, was to be the
sign between God and His Peo-
ple Israel for every generation!
The Shabbat would define the
Bnei Yisra'el as a people apart, a
different people, an "Am Kadosh."
If the Commandments, we are
reminded, were written "Be'etz-
ba Elokim" (31:18), "with the fin-
ger of God," then we are to
recognize God's direct personal
involvement with the Jewish Peo-
ple. The Egyptian magicians
were forced to admit their own
failure and defeat by declaring in
the third plague of "kinim," "etz-
ba Elokim he" - "it is the finger of
God" that destroys Egypt!
We, on the other hand, must
recognize the "finger of God" as
being that of a God of mercy, of
instruction rather than destruc-
tion, of guidance, of holiness and
Almost simultaneously, the
other half of our screen depicts
an immoral, listless multitude of
unbelievers who, in the tempo-
rary absence of their leader, run
amok with idolatrous cravings
and signs of self-degradation.
This is a far cry indeed from
the idyllic concept of a "holy peo-
ple," "a people of the covenant"
that God and Moshe aspire for
us, "to all generations."
Let us take a closer look now.
The people are frustrated with
Moshe's absence. Frightened as
lost sheep, they lose confidence,
and in the vastness of the desert
they are deeply troubled with
claustrophobic anxieties of being
marooned without leadership.
They must yet again resort to
Egyptian practices of idolatry —
they yearn for a visible godlike
apparition which can justify their
fears of impotence, set adrift in
an unchartered sea of freedom,
Reverend Samuel Semp is ritual
director of Congregation Beth
Shalom in Oak Park.
faced with only moral obligations
beyond their ken.
Their appeal to Aharon to pro-
vide this godlike being to lead
them must have shocked Aharon.
Notice, he is not asked by the peo-
ple to be a leader in place of
Moshe, but to create a replace-
ment. Aharon faces as great a
test as perhaps Avraham faced
at Moriah and Moshe faced at the
How strong was Aharon's own
belief in God? Truly he procras-
tinates; Moshe will appear and
save the moment. Truly he
makes demands on the generos-
ity of the people to give up their
jewelry and new-found riches;
they will deny him their trea-
sures and he will be saved.
But what does he not do? He
does not say, "No!" He does not
deny them this opportunity to re-
sort to idolatry, to turn so quick-
ly from God with the words of the
Commandments still buzzing in
their ears! He plays along and
creates the Golden Calf
I must ask how many of us
would have the courage under
the circumstances to face a wild
mob of terrified people, and refuse
them guidance, hope, a symbol
no less (and no more) of leader-
What harm can there be for
these "children" to play out their
fears and insecurities until the
great Lawgiver returns?
There are those who would
condemn Aharon for his ignoble
cowardice in the face of "mob
frenzy." He relinquishes the trust
placed in him and his spiritual
responsibility in favor of blind
obedience to majority pressure.
But there are those who would
only see Aharon in a more posi-
tive light. Rather than resist and
face the consequences of riots,
wanton chaos and possible blood-
shed, Aharon seeks a peaceful so-
lution to a painful dilemma.
And we can only accept his in-
tentions at least as honorable.
What is in his power is to diffuse
an explosive, divisive situation.
But is he successful? Is he exon-
The cameras return us to God
in the heavenly abode. God is
outraged by the conduct of the
children of Israel and the open
rebellion against His command-
ments. Again we have a di-
chotomy of ideas in the story for
us to contemplate.
God would destroy these "stiff-
necked people" that "you, Moshe,
brought up from Egypt. Your
people, Moshe, have turned
quickly away from which I corn-