You constantly tell me that I have an ability to take the various Torah portions and give them a relevance to what is going on today. Well this week’s parshah is almost too easy. At the time of Rabbi Richardson’s unfortunate demise, I asked to speak to the congregation and it was at a time when the parshah was Ki Tissa. What struck me as a startling parallel to what had happened is found in the First Aliyah at Exodus 31:1-3 which states the following:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have imbued him with the spirit of G-d, with wisdom, with insight, with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship”
Whereas the Lord gave Bezalel the special ability to physically construct the Tabernacle, G-d gave us Rabbi Richardson when the JJC desperately needed to be “rebuilt” and he came through with remarkable skill and devotion. It is a testament to his memory that to this day, the thought of Rabbi Richardson means so much to so many that had the privilege to call him our rabbi. G-d gives certain people special “gifts” and if used properly, it benefits many.
Need another example of how this parshah is relevant today, well let us look at the Second Aliyah and how it plays out today. Allegedly today’s society is much more sophisticated and knowledgeable than those that were walking through the desert oh so long ago. They were enslaved for many hundreds of years and were a suspicious and superstitious people that had to believe in a G-d that had left them for so many years and miraculously reappeared through Moses. People like that can be easily swayed when their leader does not reappear for forty days and they are left to their own devices. They needed something to worship and they turned to Aaron to show them the way. Although commentaries state that Aaron was only attempting to postpone and buy time until Moses' return, he takes the gold he told the Israelites to give him and the gold calf is fashioned. There is nothing in the Torah that in any way indicates that Aaron was stalling for time.
Just about anyone that has any knowledge of Jewish history knows the rest of this story. G-d tells Moses of the Israelites’ betrayal and for the first time we hear a description of the Israelites that is repeated in the Torah many times (twice more in this very parshah). It is first stated by G-d in Exodus 32:9 when the following is stated:
“And the Lord said to Moses: "I have seen this people and behold! they are a stiff necked people.”
G-d then wants to annihilate the Israelites but the greatest attorney who ever lived, Moses, defends his people and convinces the Lord to spare them, but Moses is so disgusted by what he sees, he destroys the first set of tablets that he brought down with him.
This parshah continues with a very interesting exchange between Moses and his brother when he asks Aaron what happened. As stated in Exodus 32:21-22:
Moses said to Aaron: "What did this people do to you that you brought [such] a grave sin upon them?"
Aaron replied: "Let not my lord's anger grow hot! You know the people, that they are disposed toward evil.”
In other words, Aaron, the leader in charge while Moses is away, does not take any blame and states that the people are “disposed toward evil”.
By now you are saying how do the actual events of the golden calf relate to today’s events. Well, the Republican Party used to stand for something. It was fiscally conservative; “G-d fearing”; and wanted to project themselves as people that lived by what is written in the United States Constitution. If the last four years have shown us anything, that “Republican Party” is a thing of the past and is now something that is only interested in preserving the power it has enjoyed, and no longer has any true values to believe in. In a sense they now “worship” a demagogue that disgraced himself by causing his party to losing both houses of the Congress; leading an insurrection against the United States of America; and duped many people into thinking that he had to remain in power no matter that he lost a fair election. His “big lie” is still being espoused by members of the Republican Party as they go about their business.
This is something so foreign to what this Country stands for, that to even think it possible four years ago, one would have been thought of as a dangerous lunatic. This false “god” found it easy to manipulate a people that were “disposed toward evil”, yet he takes no responsibility for what happened. Lest you think this reign of terror is over, this past week, many of those that call themselves Republicans went to an annual meeting of conservatives called CPAC and who is the guest of honor, Donald Trump. If you want even more relevance to what we read this week in the Torah, a statue of Mr. Trump was wheeled into the convention hall. The statue is larger than life, with a golden head and Trump’s trademark suit jacket with white shirt and red tie. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
My only hope is that there is a Moses out there today, that can assuage G-d’s wrath (if Covid-19 is not a sign then nothing is) and bring us back to a Country that is again respected throughout the world for the values it once held dear.
I should end the analogies here, but I cannot help myself. Moses goes back up Mt. Sinai and stays for forty days and forty nights and brings back the second set of tablets. Without knowing it, his presence before the Almighty gave his skin a radiant glow that frightened the Israelites when he came down from the mountain. In order for him to speak to the multitude, Exodus 34:33 states the following:
“When Moses had finished speaking with them, he placed a covering over his face.”
By stretching a point and at the risk of being called a heretic, in today’s world one has to wear a “covering” in order to be in the presence of others.
I am still not certain how to handle politics from the bima. Of course, I see some of the same problems in the Republican party that you do, but I am also heartened by the example of the six Republican Senators who voted to indict President Trump during his second impeachment trial. The Democratic party also has an idolatry problem, but I do agree with you that it has maintained greater integrity at this time than the Republican party. I’m glad you raised the CPAC conference, Trump’s presence, and the golden statue of him. Truth is stranger than fiction indeed. That the statue is appearing the very week that we read about the golden calf is mind-blowing to me. I assure you that many clergy will speak from the pulpit about this very topic come Shabbat.
I also yearn for another Moses. Where would s/he come from? Is Moses a political figure or a spiritual figure? COVID is, I believe, a sign from G-d that we are on the wrong track.
I am especially intrigued by your conclusion, and I encourage you to develop it more. You wrote, “…[I]n today’s world one has to wear a ‘covering’ in order to be in the presence of others.”
Do you mean that you never know what the politics of the people around you are, so you have to tread carefully? Or do you mean that one’s radiance cannot shine forth in the presence of others. If the latter, why is this the case?
Rabbi Richardson gave me a greater appreciation of my religion and for that I am forever grateful to him. You would have liked him immensely.
As to Aaron, you are right that I do not appreciate an interpretation of the Torah that makes no sense. Trying to make important figures of the Torah as without blame is to me contrary to what the Torah teaches us. Don't be afraid to express what you think about what you read regardless of what others think. I believe free will is one of the cornerstones of the religion with hopefully the correct determination made after one thinks of what to do.
I was not being political in what I said. I was merely pointing out what is going on and how strange it is that despite the alleged intelligence of those that have been voted in office and their alleged following of the Holy Book, they manage to worship a "golden idol".
As to my last comment, don't overthink what I said. Because of Covid-19 protocols, it is the correct thing to wear a mask when in the presence of others.