Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Parshat Ki Tissa

The Golden Calf

Israel witnessed frightening events when God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai (See Shemot Chapter 20). They then saw Moshe go up the mountain into the eye of the storm, without any food or provisions. He had not been seen since.

Israel's reaction was "Make us a god (elohim) that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what has become of him".

This is strange, because if they wanted a replacement for god, Moshe's disappearance is irrelevant.

We have therefore to alternatives to understanding the people's requests:

The people thought the Moshe was a god
The people wanted a replacement for Moshe

It is easy to understand why the people may have thought that Moshe was a divine being. The people had seen Moshe perform signs, the ten plagues to Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the falling of the Manna and the water from the rock. Despite Moshe's insistence that they worship God, the people, with a primitive understanding of religion, may have still believed that he was a god.

However, even if the people did not think that Moshe we can still understand their request as a seeking a replacement for Moshe. If so, then why do the people ask for a

Within, Sefer Shemot, we have numerous examples where the word elohim, does not necessarily mean, God, but leader:

"Then his master shall bring him to the judges (elohim), and shall bring him to the door, or unto the door-post" (21:6).

"The plea[s] of both parties shall come to the judges (elohim), [and] whoever the judges (elohim) declare guilty shall pay twofold to his neighbor (22:8).

However, the most telling is:

"The Lord said to Moses, "See! I have made you a lord (elohim) over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your speaker" (7:1).

While it is also possible that Pharaoh also saw Moshe as a god, it is clear that God did not. Therefore, the word elohim does not necessarily mean God.

Therefore, by calling for the Golden Calf, Israel did not seek to replace God Himself, only Moshe. The problem, however, is that once the calf was ceated, the people forgot that it was merely a medium, but a god itself.
Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tissa, entitled: "Counting the People" appears at
Another Sedra Short on Parshat Tissa entitled: "Blood Money" appears at

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