KI SISA (Exodus, 30:11-34:35) — “Fool’s Gold”

“The statistics linking smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and burn marks on furniture are inconclusive…”

“Seat belts are too restrictive.  Many people have died because they couldn’t get out of their cars quickly enough…”

“I’m only going to taste one tiny sliver of this Double-Decadent Chocolate Cream Pie…”

“Honest, Mom, It’s only a date… ”

“Marijuana is NOT addictive!  It’s not as if it will lead to taking something dangerous …”

“I don’t need to hire a Mohel.  I can do it myself.  I’ve watched it being done dozens of times…”

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Do we really believe the lies we tell ourselves?

One such lie led to the creation of the Golden Calf.

Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.  He told them he’d be there for 40 days.  He meant 40 full days, not including the day he actually went up the mountain.  The people counted the day of his ascent as well, and therefore expected him back a day earlier:

The nation saw that Moses had delayed in descending the mountain, and the Nation gathered around Aaron and said, “Rise up, and make for us gods that will go before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt —  we do not know what became of him!”  (Exodus, 32:1)

How could they have made such a foolish mistake?  Granted, they misunderstood Moses’ timetable; they couldn’t figure out where he was.  They feared he was dead.  But does a delayed arrival of Moses justify idol worship?  A mere 40 days before, they had stood at the base of the mountain, and heard the Second Commandment:  “You will have no other gods before Me… Don’t bow to them, and don’t serve them…””  (Ibid, 20:3, 5)

What were these people thinking?  Which part of “Don’t …” did they not understand?!!

How could logically thinking, intelligent people, do such a thing?  These people had seen all the miracles that G-d had performed for them in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the desert.  How could they have so blatantly ignored G-d’s warning?  How could people who had sung “This is my G-d, and I will glorify Him…” (Ibid, 15:2) at the Red Sea now dance around a golden statue, chanting “These are your gods, Israel, who took you out of Egypt”?  (Ibid 32:8)

Nachmanides explains that the people were not interested in replacing G-d.  Rather, they were looking to replace Moses, who they thought had disappeared.  They viewed Moses as a “semi-god,” and the purpose of the Golden Calf was to serve as a new semi-god who would be their new guide.

But did they REALLY believe that nonsense?  If they really still believed in G-d, and simply thought they were just creating a new Moses, why were they violating G-d’s Torah?!

They arose early the next day and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings.  The people sat down to eat and drink, and they got up TO ENJOY THEMSELVES. (Ibid verse 6)

“TO ENJOY THEMSELVES.”  That is how Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (“The Living Torah”) translates the word “LETZACHEK.”  Literally, it means “to laugh” or “to mock.”   Sarah viewed Ishmael as a bad influence on his brother Isaac when he began to “METZACHEK – to ridicule.”  (Genesis, 21:9)  When Joseph was falsely accused of trying to seduce his master’s wife, she claimed that he had come “LETZACHEK – to make sport” with her.    (Ibid, 39:16)

The term “LETZACHEK” refers to a total breakdown of morality.  The Golden Calf episode was not a religious ceremony involving the worship of a false god.  It was an orgy!

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And therein lies the explanation of what was really going on.  The Talmud says that the only reason our ancestors worshipped idols was in order to allow themselves to engage in promiscuity.  (See “Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry”)  G-d said there are limits on intimate behavior.  The religions of Baal and the Golden Calf permitted everything.

Rather than being viewed as immoral individuals who had no self-control, they formulated a new theology, the religion of the Golden Calf.  They weren’t being evil; they were being ecumenical!

Human nature is such that we don’t want to admit our own weaknesses.   Therefore, we fabricate justifications for our actions/inactions.  “I’m not a glutton — I WANT to weigh 300 pounds.”  “I’m not addicted to cigarettes; I could quit any time.  It’s just that my research indicates that the surgeon general is a drunk.”  “I’m not too lazy to reach down and put on my seatbelt; I believe I’m safer without it!”

The amazing thing is that if we repeat these lies often enough, we begin to believe them!

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One of my favorite examples is abortion.  To me, abortion is wrong.  (There are many exceptions, but I don’t want to go into that here.  That’s not my point.)  I know that because Jewish Law says so.  No, it’s not murder, in the full sense of the word.  But it’s not “a woman’s choice” either.  My source for this belief is the Torah.  For me, there is no question.

I find it amazing that so many people have their own opinions as to when life begins.  Unless they are doctors, biologists, or, at least, theologians, most people have no educated basis for an opinion.  Yet, a person who has no idea what he/she is talking about claims to believe that life begins in the second trimester.  Or third trimester.  Or five minutes before birth.

And what is their basis for such an opinion?  They believe it so they can have the clear-conscience-convenience of guilt-free abortion.  “My reason for terminating this pregnancy is not because I don’t want to be encumbered by an unexpected human being who will cramp my style. Oh, no!  I am terminating this pregnancy because I believe that this is not a child; it is an unviable tissue mass!”

It’s what I would call “outcome based theology.”  Believe what’s convenient so you can justify doing what you want to do.  Believe what you have to so you can do what you want to.  In the 60’s they called it “Free Love.”  Today they call it liberalism.  In the desert they called it the Golden Calf.

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Moses turned and descended from the mountain, with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand … The Tablets were G-d’s handiwork, and the script was the script of G-d, ENGRAVED on the Tablets.  (Exodus, 32:15)

ENGRAVED on the Tablets.”  The Talmud (Avos, 6:2) observes that the Hebrew word “CHARUS – engraved,” can also be pronounced “CHEIRUS – Freedom.”    “FREEDOM on the Tablets.”  “There is no freer person,” says the Talmud, “than one who studies Torah.”

Who is more free, one whose thoughts, beliefs, and philosophies are slaves to his passions – or someone who has the peace of mind of knowing and accepting what G-d expects of him?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives 

“Fool’s Gold” (2010)

“The statistics linking smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and burn marks on furniture are inconclusive.”

“Seat belts are too restrictive. Many people have died because they couldn’t get out of their cars quickly enough.”

“I’m only going to taste one tiny sliver of this Double-Decadent Chocolate Cream Pie…”

“Honest, Mom, It’s only a date… ”

“Marijuana is NOT addictive! It’s not as if it will lead to taking something dangerous …”

“I don’t need to hire a Mohel. I can do it myself. I’ve watched it being done dozens of times…”

Do we really believe the lies we tell ourselves? …

Read more.

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 “Who WAS That Masked Man?” (2009)

 It was to be the very first Yom Kippur.   Moses was returning from the summit of Mount Sinai. He was carrying in his hands two blocks of sapphire.

 This was his second such journey. Last time Moses came down the mountain carrying stone blocks he was dismayed by what he saw… He discovered his People dancing around a Golden Calf…Moses smashed the Tablets; his People weren’t ready for them.

Now Moses was bringing a new set of Tablets. G-d had accepted Moses’ prayers for forgiveness for His People. Every year we commemorate that day as Yom Kippur, a day when G-d is prepared to forgive his People for their shortcomings.

 Yes, Moses was back. He had returned to his nation… But something was different… it was… his face!…

 Read more.

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“Hot Cash” (2008)

 The Children of Israel sinned.  They sinned egregiously.  They melted their gold and formed it into a statue of a calf.  They danced around that statue, referring to it as their god who had taken them out of Egypt.  This was a terrible sin.  G-d almost wiped out the entire nation as a punishment.

 They needed to atone for their sin…

 Simply put, the Israelites sinned against G-d by melting their gold into an idol.  They atoned for this sin by melting their silver into a Temple for G-d.

 …This is what they must give …a half-shekel…

 There were certain commandments that Moses didn’t fully understand.  The Half Shekel was one of them.  The Torah says …This is what they must give …a half shekel… The Talmud says that G-d showed Moses a fiery half-shekel coin, and said, “It should be like this.”

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin asked why Moses was so confused.  Why did he need to see what a half-shekel looked like?  Had he never seen such a coin before?  And why did G-d show him a half-shekel of fire?  Wouldn’t a regular silver coin have sufficed to clarify the requirement?

 … Moses knew quite well what a silver coin looked like; that wasn’t his question…

Read more.

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“‘Los ANGELES’ (‘City of ANGELS’) or San Francisco?” (2004)

 .. It is very important to defer to the protocols of the community you visit. Even angels do it for humans, and humans do it for the angels:

 “… He (Abraham) stood by them (three angels who appeared to be men) under the tree, and they ate.” (Genesis, 18:8)

 “… He (Moses) was there (Mt. Sinai/Heaven) with G-d for forty days and forty nights. He ate no bread and drank no water.” (Exodus, 34:28)

 Based upon the above two verses, the Talmud (Bava Metzia, 86b) advises us to respect local custom. Humans require food for sustenance. Angels, who are spiritual beings, do not. Yet, the angels, out of respect for Abraham, honored him by accepting his offer of food, while Moses had to adhere to the angelic way of life by engaging in a forty-day fast…

 We just read that one should follow the customs that are acceptable in the locale in which he finds himself. Does this mean that we should have one set of values in Jerusalem, Monsey and Boro Park, and a different set of values in San Francisco, New Paltz, and Massachusetts?!…

Read more.

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“How Do I Count Thee? …” (2003)

 … How did we get caught up in worshiping the Golden Calf? How could we have strayed so far from the Second Commandment …

Read more.

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“Cut Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning” (2002)

 G-d was angry… Moses said to the people, “… I will go back up to G-d and try to gain forgiveness for your crime.” …

Sounds pretty easy. Too easy. Is that all it takes to be forgiven for sinning? Did you worship idols and rebel against G-d today? Maybe a little murder and adultery while you’re at it? No Problem! Take two Tablets, say thirteen attributes and a few “Hail Moses-es” and call me in the morning! You’re all set! All is forgiven!… Is that what Judaism is all about?! Do whatever you want, and then say a few verses and then everything is okay?! Sounds like another religion!…

Read more.

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“Abs of Steel/Calves of Gold” (2001)

This week, it seems, is the “Week of the Cows.” …The Red Heifer is a Mitzvah that is, in all due respect, totally illogical…

Is there a link between the two colored cows in this week’s Torah Readings? Can we find a connection between the calf of gold and his crimson “mother?” … Is there any logical connection between the sin of bowing down to a calf-shaped molten image, and being sprinkled with a mix containing the ashes of a cow? …

 Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2015 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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