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The People Bow to the Golden Calf  

 

a.k.a. Ki Tisa  (Exodus 30: 11 - 34:35) 

 

God told Moses to conduct a census of the people and said that each person counted should contribute a sum of money as an atonement offering to God. God also told Moses to make a bronze basin for the priests to use when washing their hands and feet.  He instructed Moses to make sacred oil and incense with special spices. 

 

God told Moses that keeping the Sabbath was a perennial contract between him and the people and they were bound to keep the Sabbath as a holy day. Anyone who profaned the Sabbath by performing work or in any other way had to be put to death.  

 

When God had finished speaking to Moses, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant inscribed by his own hand. 

 

When the people saw that Moses had still not returned from Mount Sinai, they ordered Aaron to make them gods to worship. Aaron told them to take off their gold earrings. These he melted down and then fashioned a golden calf. The people proclaimed that this was their God. Aaron built an altar in front of it and announced that the next day was to be a feast day when offerings would be made to the golden calf. 

 

God saw this and told Moses the people were a stiff-necked people, haughty and disobedient, and he was going to show them his wrath. Moses pleaded with God not to destroy the people. He reminded God of his promises to the people. Yet again God relented. 

 

Moses went down to the people carrying the two tablets of stone on which the covenant was written. He found the people wildly dancing round the Golden Calf. In fury, Moses threw down the tablets and broke them. He burnt the golden calf into powder, put it into water and made the people drink it.  

 

Moses demanded to know of Aaron what the people had done to make him lead them into sin. Aaron replied that the people were set on evil and had ordered him to make gods to worship. 

 

Moses stood at the gate of the camp and asked all who were on God’s side to join him outside the camp. After that, Moses instructed the sons of Levi to take swords and go through the camp to kill everyone who opposed those of God’s side. Three thousand men were killed.  

 

The next day Moses told the surviving people they had sinned greatly. He said he would approach God and attempt to secure atonement for their sins. Moses went back to God, who responded by saying he would blot from his book those who had sinned against him. He sent a plague among the people to effect this punishment. 

 

Then God told Moses to take the remaining Israelites to the Promised Land. He promised to drive out the tribes who occupied the land. He warned, however, that he would not stand among the people because his presence would overpower them.  

 

Moses was in the habit of taking his tent and pitching it outside the camp. He called it the “tent of meeting”. Whenever he entered this tent, a pillar of cloud would descend and be stationed at the tent entrance. In this way God would come down to speak with Moses face-to-face.  

 

Moses asked God to reveal himself to him in his fullness. God replied that nobody could look upon his face and live. He said, however, that if Moses stood in the cleft of a rock, God would pass by and shield Moses with his hand. He would then remove his hand and Moses would be able to see his back passing by. 

 

Then God told Moses to cut two stone tablets and said he would inscribe them as he had inscribed the first two. Moses had first to ascend Mount Sinai. God descended in a cloud and identified himself as a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and steadfast in love. He proclaimed himself a forgiver of sins, but said he would punish sins as far as the third and fourth generations. 

 

God then renewed his covenant with the people and reaffirmed his promise to drive the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites and other tribes from the Promised Land. The people of Israel were forbidden to make any covenant with these people, but had to tear down their altars and their idols. The people were prohibited from worshipping with these tribes or taking their women as wives. The making of idols was banned. God proclaimed himself a jealous God. 

 

God commanded the people to keep the Sabbath, Passover and Shavuot. He ordered that the first produce of any harvest should be given to Him. He reminded the people that a kid should not be cooked in its mother’s milk.  

 

Moses stayed with God 40 days and nights and God wrote down the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.  

 

When Moses came down from the mountain with the two tablets, his face shone brightly though he did not realise it. The people were afraid to come near him but Moses summoned them.  Moses told them what God had commanded on Mount Sinai. Then he covered his face with a veil and only removed it when he spoke with God, after which it shone again.   

  

Commentary on the 21st parsha (portion of the Torah). The Torah consists of the five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament. 

 

To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism and how we got where we are.

 

He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.

 

SAS:  You know, some would say this God of yours had a personality disorder. Megalomania, paranoia, schizophrenia are just some of the conditions that come to mind when I read this parsha.

MS:     As usual, apart from your blasphemy, which I am now used to, you miss all the crucial points here. God was furious at the faithlessness of the people. It is they, not he, who had the personality disorder. The minute Moses is gone, they lose all faith, all hope, all trust. They are so insecure because of the shallowness of their belief that they have to reassure themselves by seeing the thing that they worship. They are so proud that they have to fashion their own god. And they are so unspiritual that they have to worship gold, which as you know is an allusion to their materialism and disdain for the world of eternity and the soul.

SAS:  Quite astute, Methuselah. I’ll grant you that. But what’s the story with God? Why does he keep testing the people and allowing them to sin again, so he can have them killed, and then send a plague to finish off more of them? We learn that he is a forgiving God, but will punish them for their sins unto the fourth generation. This is retribution. This remark is the origin of the principle that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons, unto the fourth generation. What’s so loving about this God?

MS:  What part of the term “covenant” don’t you understand? A covenant is a deal – a contract. God will look after his people if they will worship and love him. If they don’t, his anger at their breaking the covenant will be terrible. He offers a lot; they can’t even keep their promises. They are shallow, fickle and desperate. They have no faith and this is what they demonstrate.

SAS:  What about the children having to pay for the sins of their parents?

MS:     This is a lesson to the people, a demonstration of the power of the Lord. He is a god of loving kindness and mercy, but also a jealous God. Do you understand the kind of power we are talking about here?

SAS:  Well, I am less impressed by the rosy afterglow of Moses’ face after his encounter with God’s presence than you are, obviously. I am upset by the machinations that God conducts in his testing of the love and faith of the people.

MS:     Do you think that the gift of being God’s people comes for free, without the need to show that we are worthy of this relationship? The gift is precious and we must at all times show we value it as such.

SAS:  Look, I think it might all be too much trouble. I don’t see the benefit. I’d rather not have the covenant. What about Moses breaking the first set of tablets? Why would he do that?

MS:     Can you imagine his anger at the people for deserting God, and building the golden calf? After all, he was the representative of this willful, faithless, irresponsible people.

SAS:  Well, it was not a very mature act on his part. Smashing the tablets? What was the point of that?

MS: You might consider that the relationship with God was pretty shattered at that time. You might also know that Moses was punished profoundly for that act of anger and frustration. He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, merely to look upon it.

SAS:    Well, he must have felt richly rewarded for all he went through as the intermediary between God and the people.

MS:     There’s no need for cheap sarcasm. This is serious stuff. This is the code by which Jews were to live for centuries. It did not come easy.

SAS:    Methuselah, pardon me for mentioning it again, but being killed for not keeping the Sabbath, is that a core punishment or a non-core one? Do you think that this injunction may lose its importance in other contexts?

MS:     The word of God is the word of God. Those who reinterpret it do so at their peril. You’re free to pick and choose among God’s laws if you want to. Just don’t pick on me. I try to obey all of them.

SAS:    I think you should acknowledge that times change. Why is it so terrible to boil a kid in its mother’s milk? Last week you were quite happy to slaughter a ram. Why so squeamish now?

MS:     Once again you miss the point. It is you who are literal. In the name of rationality you have completely removed the awe of power and the reverence for God’s word from our history. I feel sorry for you. You sample and choose only the part of the code you like. You must feel lost and desperate a lot of the time.

SAS:    I’m quite happy, thank you. I just don’t understand the character of your fictional God. He’s incorrigible.

MS:     It’s you who are incorrigible. Try to understand that the weight of this tradition cannot be knocked over by your puny arguments.

SAS:    You are in darkness, my friend.

 

History 

 

The Parsha we have just read comes from the five books of Moses, the Torah. The dialogues between Sigmund Albert Spinoza and Methuselah Solomon are about the meaning of the Parsha.

 

What we know about Jewish History, however, is based in fact, and on historical records. 

 

If you’d like to know more about the real history of our extended Jewish family, read on.

 

Russian emigration to Palestine as response to anti-Semitism 

 

Between 1880 and 1920 more than two million Jews fled Russia on account of anti-Semitic legislation and persecution.  

 

Alexander II of Russia banned Jews from owning land and subjected them to travel restrictions. This was during a repressive period following an unsuccessful assassination attempt against him. When he was actually assassinated in 1881, the Jews as a whole were wrongly accused of the crime. There were pogroms in 166 towns as a result. Jews were slaughtered in significant numbers and their homes destroyed.

 

Alexander III ascended the throne and the situation worsened. Jews were branded killers of Christ and were blamed for the very pogroms that killed their people. The new tsar introduced the notorious May Laws in terms of which Jews were banned from rural areas and quotas were placed on Jews entering higher education. Jews were banned from certain professions. Jews were expelled from Kiev in 1886 and Moscow in 1891. In 1892 Jews were banned from participating in local elections.

 

An important organization that encouraged Jews to settle in Palestine was Hovevei Zion, which registered as a charity in 1890. It became known as “The Odessa Committee” and already had 4000 members by 1897. This Zionist organisation was dedicated to establishing Jewish agricultural settlements in Palestine.

 

Members of Hovevei Zion joined with members of Bilu, an idealistic group, to establish Rishon LeZion as an agricultural cooperative in Palestine on Arab land they’d bought. When this cooperative failed, its members secured funds from Baron Rothschild and it morphed into a successful wine-exporting business.

 

Such pioneering movements spurred people to live in Palestine, and this trend increased after further Russian pogroms in 1903-1906 and after the 1917 Russian Revolution. At least 70,000 Jews died during the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) in which the Red Army defended the Bolshevik government against anti-Bolshevik factions. A number of historians quote much higher figures for death in pogroms – 115,000; 150,000 and some go as high as 250,000.

 

In between these pogroms an event had occurred that brought Russian anti-Semitism into sharp focus beyond its borders. In 1911 a Jew, Menahem Mendel Beilis, was falsely accused of a blood libel (ritual murder) of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. The case depended on the testimony of a lamplighter who said that a Jew had abducted the boy.

 

Beilis was kept in jail for two years awaiting trial. Russian newspapers as well as the gutter press fueled anti-Semitism. The trial in Kiev (1913) exposed the lamplighter’s testimony as bogus and Beilis’s high-profile legal team demolished the prosecution’s case. Even so, the jury was divided six-six, which luckily meant an acquittal in terms of the Russian system. 

 

Beilis left for Palestine and later immigrated to the USA in 1920. The case shocked many Jews who’d still felt they had a future in Russia, and greater numbers fled the country.

 

The influx of Jews from Russia into Palestine came mainly in three waves. In the First Aliyah (1882-1903) 35,000 Jews came to Palestine and most were from Russia. In the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) another 40,000 followed – again mostly from Russia. The first kibbutz, Degania, was established in 1909. During the Third Aliyah (1919-1923) a further 40,000 arrived – mostly Russian. In this Post-War era Palestine was no longer part of the Ottoman Empire; Britain had conquered it in 1918. The 1917 Balfour Declaration had proclaimed Britain’s support of a national home for Jews in Palestine.

 

In 1919 Lenin categorized anti-Semitism as a tsarist diversionary tactic that had made Jews scapegoats of a reactionary system. This provided hope of a new future for Jews in Russia and, indeed, Jews were conspicuous among the Bolshevik leadership. The life of Jews in Communist Russia was, however, far from a rosy one.  We’ll return to that story later.

 

Here follows a discussion on this historical segment by Dad, Chaya and Ben. 

 

BEN: More of the same, persecution and pogroms. 

DAD:  Yes, this has been the history of the Jews during the period in which they did not have a country of their own.

CHAYA: If that were true, and the reason that Jews have been persecuted is because they didn’t have a country of their own, surely the same should be true of people of other religions who don’t have countries set aside for their own religious group. What is the Buddhists’ country, or the Catholics’ country? Why should a religious group have a country? 

DAD:  Well to some extent Catholics have always had their own countries, even though there is not one specially set aside for them – unless you count the tiny Vatican. In the main, though, religious persecution has not been based on the statelessness of people. The Jews are not just a religious group, we are a people.

BEN: So, are you saying we have been persecuted because there is something about us as a people that makes us the object of persecution?

DAD: I suppose I am saying that. We have always seen ourselves as different, and have always refused to give up that difference. That has led to persecution and blame. We have lacked the strength to defend ourselves as a people. 

CHAYA: It’s difficult to know what makes us a people, if not our religious affiliation. So why would having our own country protect us? And in any event, how did we decide that Palestine was our country? Jews lived outside of Palestine for more than a thousand years. Do we maintain our biblical right to the land?

BEN: Well, there were Jews who remained in Palestine and many in the Middle East and Europe who believed that Jews had a right to go to try to make a home in Palestine.

CHAYA: What about the other people who were living in Palestine at the time? 

DAD: Well, as you know, this has become a major issue regarding the rights of residence and citizenship of what today is the State of Israel. But let’s talk about that another time soon. I think what’s important is that since the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews all over the world have not been persecuted in the way that they were before 1948. 

BEN: Yes, but many things happened in the course of the 20th century that may have contributed to the greater safety that many Jews now feel. The aftermath of the Second World War is a huge scar on the consciousness of the world. 

DAD: Don’t underestimate the fact that Jews no longer feel weak in their own eyes and the eyes of the world. We remember our history and we have learnt to protect ourselves from the kind of persecution we have heard about tonight. 

CHAYA: We need to watch out for persecution in general. Especially as Jews, we should be aware that it doesn’t take much for powerful groups to turn on the less powerful. 

 

Sayings 

 

Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and humour, insightful reflections on this life of ours.

 

Here are tonight’s sayings:

 

·        He should be reincarnated as a chandelier – by day he should hang and by night he should burn.

·        The prosperity of a country can be seen simply in how it treats its old people. (Nachman of Bratslav)

·        If all men pulled in one direction, the world would fall over.

·        It is worse to be in heaven with a fool than in hell with a sage.

·        Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

 

Celebration of Great Lives 

 

Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around them.

 

Jacques Derrida (1930 – 2004)

Derrida was born in El Bar (Algeria) into a family of French Jews who lived there as part of colonial France. He was hugely successful in his academic and intellectual career. He became a professor of philosophy at the Ecole Normal in Paris in 1965. His work was very controversial, specifically because of the philosophical concept of “deconstruction” which he developed. Derrida proposed to reflect on the institution of philosophy in an entirely different way from what had been done before. He initiated a program to analyse and deconstruct the classic texts of philosophy through their language in order to undo, or deconstruct a single dominant system of thought that was a central part of the way it was constructed.  He believed that this would help us to understand the central texts and ideas of our culture and, in fact, to improve the quality of our lives. Derrida's deconstructionist works are integrally related to the more general movement of Postmodernism.

Emma Goldman (18691940)  

“Red Emma” was born in Kovno, Lithuania. Goldman played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in the United States and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. It was in Russia that Goldman was introduced to revolutionary ideas and the work of revolutionary anarchists, including the history of previous political assassinations in Czarist Russia and the concept of revolutionary violence as a tool for social change. She immigrated to the United States at seventeen. Goldman became a confirmed believer in the concept of the Attentat, the use of targeted acts of violence, including assassinations of politically significant individuals as a necessary tool to inspire political and social change. She was imprisoned in 1893 at Blackwell’s Island penitentiary for publicly telling unemployed workers that they should "Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread." She was arrested in Chicago on charges of conspiracy to assassinate President McKinley. The assassination of McKinley and the rapidly-escalating use of violence by other immigrant anarchists stained the cause of Anarchism and discredited it in American popular opinion, making its association a slur. In 1908 her U.S. citizenship was revoked. Goldman’s third imprisonment was in 1917, this time for conspiring to obstruct the draft and she was imprisoned for two years. Goldman was involved in forming No Conscription Leagues and under U.S. laws of the time, since Goldman's U.S. citizenship had been revoked, she could be deported as an undesirable resident alien under the Sedition and Anarchist Acts, as well as a resident alien convicted two times or more for crimes. After two years in Russia, disillusioned, she left, having witnessed the full results of the Bolshevik rise to power. In 1936, Goldman went to Spain to support the Spanish Republic and the fight against Francisco Franco’s fascist government in the Spanish Civil War. Emma Goldman died of a stroke in Toronto on May 14, 1940, aged 70.

 

 

 


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ADON OLAM WORDS
Adon Olam David Solid Gould & The Temple Rockers
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS
ALLE BRUDER SONG
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AL KOL ELEH WORDS
AL KOL ELEH
BASHANA words
BASHANA SONG
BEI MIR BIST DU SHEYN
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BMBDS song
CHIRIBIM WORDS
CHIRIBIM Song
DAYENU WORDS
DAYENU SONG ENGLISH
DAYENU SONG
DONNA DONNA
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HALLELUYA
HALELUJA KARAOKE
HATIKVA
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HATIKVA SONG
DAYENU
HATIKVA WORDS
HATIKVA SONG 1
HAVA NAGILA WORDS
HAVA NAGILA SONG
HAVA NAGILA KARAOKE
HAVEINU SHALOM ALEICHEM
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HEVENU SHALOM ALECHEM SONG
HINEH MA TOV WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD WORDS
JERUSALEM THE GOLD KARAOKE IVRIT
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MAYIM MAYIM WORDS
MAYIM MAYIM DANCE
OIF'N PRIPITSCHOK song
OSE SHALOM
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PAPI ROS'N
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PARTISAN SONG 1
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PARTISAN SONG MUSIC
RABBI ELIMELEKH
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AS DER REBE SINGT
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AS DER REBBE SINGT SONG
RAISINS WITH ALMONDS WORDS
SIMANTOV U MAZELTOV WORDS
SIMAN TOV MUSIC
MAZELTOV CLARINET
TUMBALALAIKA WORDS
TUMBALALAIKA MUSIC
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TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA
TZENA TZENA 4
TZENA TZENA The Weavers
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ALLE BRIDER KLEZMATICS
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BIM BAM SHABBAT SHALOM FOR KIDS
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YO EN ESTANDO - SEPHARDIC
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Sholem Aleichem Susan Allen
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This will help you find yourself]