In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we learn of the famous scandal and sin of the golden calf.
Infamously, the Jewish people sinned with idol worship. Following that breach, with Moses modeling the depth of loving leadership, the concept of forgiveness for a people was born.
How did the Jewish people come to commit this sin?
After the experiencing G-d in such open miracles as the exodus from Egypt, how could they so quickly turn their back on G-d?
Human nature is to be fickle — but so swift a change is sobering.
At Moses’ ascent of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, the people calculated the duration of his absence.
The problem was, it was a miscalculation.
So after the Jewish people waited with great anticipation for Moses’ return, after many weeks without their beloved leader, he was gone. The day of his expected arrival came and went without him, since their miscalculation was off by one day.
They planned and waited, but instead of greeting Moses, and feeling the reassurance of his return, the people were let down and empty. Perhaps, including a sense of abandonment. So they made a golden calf.
How do you fill the space of emptiness? Of absence? Of delay? Of abandonment? How do you fill a vacuum where your dreams and hopes for what ought to be are taken away, gone?
We all have the golden calves of our lives.
Sometimes they are material.
We fill painfully empty spaces of longing for something that has not yet come with golden gadgets.
Be it the absence of love.
The absence of family.
The absence of a livelihood.
The absence of health.
The absence of children.
The absence of community.
The absence of friendship.
The absence of peace.
Waiting can be so hard.
But the challenge we each face is how to go forward from a place of absence, of abandonment, of delay. What will that new space now be filled with?
With golden calves that are the ersatz gods?
They can numb the pain for a while, or convince us of our righteousness, but then what?
Or, can we find it within ourselves to recalculate?
Can we tap into deep inner resources, and recalculate?
If we pause, with thought, calmness and wisdom, we can often recalculate the one day’s difference, so to speak, and wait a little while longer.
For each of us and for each scenario, how long that “one day’s difference” will be is something different each time.
One day might be one day, or it might be 10 days, 10 months or 10 years.
Or a lifetime.
How do we cope with new and unexpected empty space?
Of course, the golden calves, the false gods, are not always tangibles like golden gadgets.
Golden calves are not necessarily limited to shopping, sports worship, relocating or turning perfectly fine hobbies into the centerpieces of our lives.
Sometimes a golden calf can be an obsession or misdirection,
It can be a false idea.
It can be an ideology.
Only awareness, true awareness and honesty, can mirror our motives, in discerning that an authentic idea actually comes from a false god.
Even otherwise noble concepts and movements, such as feminism or peace for example, can at times become a substitute god, a false god, depending on the context.
Waiting and waiting, only to be met by an emptiness, can test anyone’s mettle.
The Jewish people reached a breaking point.
We all reach different breaking points. And at such moments, we must re-calculate our lives.
But not with golden calves or ersatz gods.
That is our task, to discern the difference between ersatz and what’s real.
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