view from central park

Their golden miscalculation — and ours


In last week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, we learned of the scandal of the Golden Calf. Infamously, the Jewish people sinned with idol worship. Following that breach, the concept of forgiveness for a people was born.

How did the Jewish people come to commit this sin? After experiencing G-d in such open miracles as the exodus from Egypt, how could they so quickly turn their backs? Human nature is to be fickle — but so swift a change is sobering. What happened?

At Moshe’s ascent of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, the people calculated the duration of his absence. The problem was, they miscalculated. The Jewish people waited with great anticipation for Moshe’s return, but after weeks without their beloved leader, he was gone. The day of his expected arrival came and went. They planned and waited, but instead of greeting Moshe and feeling the reassurance of his return, the people were let down and empty, perhaps feeling abandoned. So they made a golden calf.

How do you fill the space of emptiness? Of absence? Of delay? Of abandonment? How do you fill a vacuum where your dreams and hopes are taken away, gone?

We all have the golden calves of our lives. Sometimes they are material. We fill painfully empty spaces of longing for something that has not yet come with golden gadgets.

Be it the absence of love, of family, a livelihood, of health, of children, of community, of friendship. The absence of peace.

Waiting can be so hard. But the challenge we face is how to go forward from a place of absence, of abandonment, of delay. What will that new space now be filled with?

With golden calves, ersatz gods? They can numb the pain for a while, or convince us of our righteousness, but then what?

Or can we find it within ourselves to recalculate? Can we tap into deep inner resources?

If we pause, with thought, calmness and wisdom, we can recalculate, so to speak, and wait a little while longer.

For each of us, and for each scenario, how long that “one day’s difference” will be is something different each time. One day might be one day, or it might be 10 days, 10 months or 10 years. Or a lifetime.

How do we cope with new and unexpected empty space? The golden calves, the false gods, are not always tangibles like golden gadgets. Golden calves are not necessarily limited to shopping, sports worship, relocating or turning perfectly fine hobbies into the centerpieces of our lives.

Sometimes a golden calf can be an obsession or misdirection. It can be a false idea. It can be an ideology.

Only true awareness and honesty can mirror our motives in discerning that an authentic idea actually comes from a false god. Even otherwise noble concepts and movements, such as feminism or peace, can at times become a false god, depending on the context.

Waiting and waiting, only to be met by an emptiness, can test anyone’s mettle. The Jewish people had reached a breaking point.

We all reach different breaking points. And at such moments, we must recalculate our lives. But not with golden calves or false gods. It is our task to discern the difference between the ersatz and the real.


Copyright Intermountain Jewish News