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, March 12, 2009

Parshat Ki Tissa

The Other Golden Calves

This week's parsha sees the ultimate betrayal. Only a few months previously, God had brought Israel out of Egypt with tremendous miracles, culminating with the splitting of the Red Sea. Seven weeks later, God revealed Himself to the entire people and gave them the Ten Commandments. They began with the words: "I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt" (Shemot 20:1).

Yet, when Israel created the Golden Calf they proclaimed: "This is your god O Israel, who has brought you up from the land of Egypt" (ibid 32:4).

What is interesting is that Israel makes this very same proclamation just over 400 years later.

The northern tribes had just broken away from the rule of Rechavam, the Davidic king. Yeravam, the Northern Kingdom's newly crowned king, is worried that his secession would be short lived as his people's spiritual center continued to be Jerusalem. Therefore, he created his own spiritual centers: "The king took counsel and made two golden calves, and he said to them, saying, 'It is far for you to go up to Jerusalem; here are your gods, O Israel, that have brought you up from the land of Egypt'" (I Melachim 12:28).

Once cannot help but notice this parallel. For the second time in history, Israel has created golden calves and they make the same declaration about them being the gods who brought Israel out of Egypt. The Soncono commentary on Melachim asks whether it is possible that this formula was peculiar to calf-worship. However, surely these words would remind Israel of their previous apostasy and would teach them that these gods that Yeravam created were false and calamitous?

Perhaps however, these words were not actually said by Yeravam. What does this mean?

When the Tanach records conversations, it does not normally quote the exact words. Conversations were likely to be much longer, but the Torah just brings the summary, or the main points it wants us to learn. Indeed, the Daat Mikra commentary writes that only when the Torah uses the Hebrew word "לאמר" - "saying", is it giving an exact quote. Otherwise the, Torah just brings the main ideas.

Therefore, rather than asking why Yeravam said what he said, we should be asking why the author of Sefer Melachim quotes Yeravam as saying: "Here are your gods, O Israel, that have brought you up from the land of Egypt."

It is possible that Yeravam did not say those words. Indeed, he would have been very foolish to say so. However, the prophet wants us to realize that Yeravam understood that he was not merely making a political decision to stabilize his own rule. The prophet wants us to know that Yeravam and the people fully appreciated that he was turning Israel into apostates on the same degree as the Golden calf apostasy.

If the Prophet would have quoted Yeravam's actual words, we, the reader would not have understood that Yeravam and the people were making a huge apostasy. We would have thought that he was just making a political decision. However, by bringing the quote from our parsha, we, the reader, now understand that Yeravam was fully aware of the great evil that he was doing.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tissa, entitled: "The Golden Calf" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tissa, entitled: "Counting the People" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Tissa entitled: "Blood Money" appears at

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