In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we read what can be seen as one of the darkest chapters in biblical history. Moses is up on the mountain receiving instruction from God. In his absence, the Israelites build a golden calf. They come across as unappreciative, ungrateful, and unfaithful. After everything that God has done for them, with a little taste of freedom, in a moment of weakness and temptation, they build an idol and engage in acts of debauchery. At a moment when the Israelites are striving to be closer to one another and God, it drives them further apart.
However, Midrash Rabbah offers us another interpretation that provides a bit more insight into the motivation and mindset of the Israelites that led them to making a poor choice. According to the midrash, “satan” showed the Israelites a coffin, which they believed to be that of Moses. They were given the impression that Moses had died on the mountain and that they were left alone, which scared them. They acted out of a place of fear and emotion, which led them to make a poor choice.
We have all been there before. We have acted from a place of emotion and fear, doing something that under other circumstances would be against our better judgement. We can all get scared from time to time, and let our emotions get the better of us; we cannot always control how we feel. But, we can also learn from the Israelites' tragic mistakes. While we cannot control how we feel, we can control how we act and respond to those feelings. Instead of hiding behind our emotions, may we learn to use them as a tool to help us make more compassionate and empathetic choices, bringing us closer to one another, our community, and God.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Josh Dorsch