On Wednesday, February 16, our 6th-7th Grade class engaged in an in-depth discussion on the “Golden Calf” episode from this week’s Torah portion, KI TISA. We read the translation from Chapter 32 of Exodus and then split into three groups that answered questions from the perspectives of Moses, Aaron and the people. The general memories of this episode, whether from the biblical text or “the big screen,” would likely include the quick acquiescence of Aaron to the people’s desires to worship something they could see, the restlessness of the people at Moses’ absence, the shattering of the tables of the Ten Utterances/Declarations/Commandments, and the punishment of some of those who were at the forefront of the creation of the calf. Any tale from the Torah has deeper lessons and messages beyond the action on the surface. When the students got back together after our separate discussions, we talked about the importance of trust, loyalty and faith. We also noted how Torah clearly demonstrates that, in a community, patience and forgiveness are essential. We recognized how the Torah portrayed Moses’ anger, but we marveled at the way in which he pleaded with God on behalf of the people (called “stiffnecked” in the Torah – meaning that they couldn’t see anything but their own views/concerns) to let them learn from their impatience and fear as they were trying to become accustomed to their newly-acquired freedom. Finally, we realized that God did listen to Moses and accept, to a great extent, his request to let him lead the Israelites on their journey so that they could grow along their way.
Not only in Egypt, and not only in the Middle East, but even in certain locations in the United States, there are people who are gathering to declare their opposition to their current leadership or to proposals which, they believe, will make their future less secure. In a democracy, this is a guaranteed right, expressed in the form of demonstrations, letters-to-the-editor, strikes by workers when they feel their needs are not being met, and legislative battles. There are lessons for everyone – leaders and citizens – that emerge from this week’s Torah portion in the form of values on which all people can hopefully agree: trust, a willingness to listen, some flexibility in approach and ideology, faith, mutual loyalty and respect as fellow citizens (including leaders), patience, forgiveness, and a well-intentioned and constructive passion for one’s own views and beliefs. Leadership – and being a good citizen – entails fulfilling our responsibilities to make a community, a country, or the world a place where everyone can live in hope and not in fear. Debbie Friedman’s interpretation of the words of the prophet Zechariah says it best: “Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone shall we all live in peace.”