Rabbi Eisen’s Shabbat Shalom Message

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Torah and Haftarah portions.


Candlelighting for
Friday, March 6, 2015 • 6:07pm

• Our Portion for the Week •

KEE TISSA – EXODUS 30:11 – 34:35
In this portion we find the final details of the instructions for building the Mishkan, the portable wilderness sanctuary. The reading actually begins with directions for conducting a census of all men of military age by collecting a poll tax or half a shekel. The money was to be used for the maintenance of the Mishkan. A reminder to keep the Sabbath serves as an indication that the sanctification of time is more important even than building a sanctuary. At this point, we read that the Israelites panic over Moses' protracted absence on Mt. Sinai and demand that Aaron make them a god they can see. The outcome is the golden calf. When Moses sees this egregious breach of the covenant, he breaks the tablets of the Ten Commandments. God, for His part, wants to destroy the people. Moses punishes the people and manages to assuage God's anger. Moses then returns to Sinai to rewrite the tablets. With the covenant renewed, the construction of the Mishkan can proceed.

• Our Question for the Week •

Moses said to Aaron, 'What did this people do to you that you have brought such great sin upon them?' Aaron said, 'Let not my lord be enraged. You know that this is a people bent on evil.' They said to me, 'Make us a god to lead us; for that man Moses, who brought us out of the Land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him.' So I said to them, 'Whoever has gold, take it off.' They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!'
(Exodus 32:21-24)

What is Aaron's greatest moral failure in this incident? The lack of resistance or moral suasion offered the Israelite mob? His construction of the idolatrous calf? His evasion of personal responsibility in responding to Moses?

Why did Aaron so quickly succumb to public pressure to "make us a god"? Fear for his life? Loss of personal faith? A stalling tactic pending Moses' return? Innate weakness of character?

How might the biblical narrative have unfolded differently if Aaron had acceptied all responsibility himself, and defended the honor and fidelity of the Israelite people? What would have been the most honest response to Moses' query? The most effective?

How are religious leaders today to balance their own commitments and perspectives against the opposition of an outspoken movement of dissent? On what moral or religious issues can there "be no compromise"?