Ki Tissa & Parah
For the week of March 10, 2007 / 20 Adar 5767
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 30:11 - 34:35 &
Bemidbar / Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38


Nothing Like an Idol

Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." (Shemot / Exodus 32:2-4)

Idolatry comes in two forms. The first is a false god. From the days of the ancient world until now, people have worshiped innumerable gods. Each of these gods has a name and is ascribed particular characteristics, is usually understood to have rule over some aspect of life, and calls for specific types of service from its followers. The second type of idol is of the kind we encounter in this week's parsha (Torah portion). In this case Aaron fashioned an image to represent the god or gods who delivered them from Egypt. He ascribed the words and power of the one true God to the idol he made.

As in the case of all idolatry, the result for the people was devastating. God commands us not to make images of himself, because he loves us and fully understands the destructive nature of idolatry.

It's hard to believe that the same people who witnessed God's amazing reality through Moses would so quickly give themselves to such a ridiculous misrepresentation. Not only were the people so quick to engage in phony spirituality, they also were encouraged and led by Moses' own brother, Aaron, who was also Moses' God-appointed partner in representing God before the people and Pharaoh and was to be the first chief priest of Israel. How could the people engage in such error after all they had experienced?

Actually this quick turn to idolatry is not as strange as it might seem, for it is something we are all prone to do. While we may not literally fashion statues and bow down to them, claiming that they are representing the God of the Bible, it is a regular occurrence to image God in ways of our own making. We claim to be worshiping the one true God. yet we misrepresent him by fashioning him according to our own ideas and calling for behaviors that fit these images. In most cases the falseness of these images are mixed with some of God's true attributes. Instead of allowing God to define himself to us in his own way, we determine what he is really like according to our own preferences.

Here are some of the golden calves of our day:

The chicken soup for the soul god. This god says he loves us, but only in a very sentimental sense. He has our picture on his fridge, giggles when we mess up, and never corrects our behavior. His goal is to give us warm fuzzies to help us learn to always feel good about ourselves.

The vending machine god. This god suits our push-button, fast-food society. He only exists to fulfill our desires. He makes no demands of us, except to encourage us to ask him for whatever goodies we may want. Any lack of response on his part is usually due to our not learning how to get him to perform according to our wishes. He has many representatives dedicated to help us get the most out of him.

The fantasy god. This god lives in a realm detached from human reality. He loves it when we view our lives based on grandiose statements whether or not they have any basis in reality. This god gives us the power to say we are healed when we are sick, rich when we are poor, and wise when we are foolish. He is nice most of the time, until we ask too many questions.

How very different these attempts of imaging the true God are from the God whom Moses encounters later in the parsha, when he asks to see his glory. God personally revealed himself to Moses by saying,

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus / Shemot 34:6,7)

The true God is nothing like an idol. Moses knew that. Unlike those who were easily satisfied with a perverted, false version of truth and reality, Moses yearned to know his God, not according to his own perceptions, but according to who he really is. May we not settle for anything else.

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