Friday, February 22, 2008

A quick bit on this week's portion.

Shabbat shalom to one and all! And to all a good night. Or something to that effect.

I'm feeling a little tired and lazy today, so I won't be saying much about this week's portion, Ki Tissa. I took several pages of notes while studying a few evenings ago, and there's some worthwhile content there, but I'm just not feeling the full oomph of a d'var Torah right now. It's been a long, draining week and I'm poised for a quiet weekend where I'll be seeing an old friend and sleeping a lot. So here are a few thoughts from this week's parshah.

+ Exodus 31:14 reads, "You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you" (emphasis my own). I really appreciated this because several verses later it says that we should keep the sabbath as holy for G-d, but in this instance, it is necessary to proclaim that the sabbath is holy for he/she who keeps it.

+ Exodus 31:16 reads, "... stone tablets inscribed with the finger of G-d." (emphasis my own). I appreciate the subtleties of words, as frequent readers will note. Grammar and syntax and the choice of words -- be it the word itself or the translator's choice -- are incredibly significant to understanding what is written in Torah. Typically I would read something like this as "inscribed by" not "with" ... though this is sort of a grammar stitch that I'm not completely sure as to whether there is a ruling either way as to which is more appropriate. I can say, though, that the word in the parshah utilizes "bet," which as a preposition can mean "in, on, or by." The Hebrew preposition for "with" is "im" or "et." Thus the translator decided it would be more appropriate to translate it as "with the finger of G-d" than what it likely was originally written as. So when you consider the different reading of the two -- "stone tablets inscribed with the finger of G-d" versus "stone tablets inscribed by the finger of G-d" -- the latter reads very simply, saying that G-d inscribed the tablets. The former, however, using "with" portrays something more heartfelt, perhaps that the tablets are saturated with G-d, not just that he merely inscribed them, but rather resides within the tablets, within the commandments. They are not just issued by G-d, but contain G-d. Thus in them do you find G-d's presence.

And finally ...

+ Exodus chapter 32 contains the golden calf incident, in which the people, wary of waiting for Moses' return, demand that Aaron construct an idol, which results in the formation of the golden calf. Now, in my mind the story always results in an instance of idolatry, in that the people wanted a physical form of G-d in their midst and thus create the calf to serve as such. However! For the first time, while reading this portion and the commentary together, had I really seen perhaps what was going on. The Israelites were used to having Moses in their midst, and as such, G-d was ever-present -- they viewed Moses as embodied by G-d. Thus, with Moses gone, they needed another physical way to view G-d, something in which G-d could embody. As Hersch says, the people did not understand that G-d had taken the initiative to reach down, believing instead that Moses had power to summon G-d. When I read this and it finally clicked that they were not fashioning G-d, but were fashioning a replacement for Moses (the vehicle of sorts), I immediately thought about the place of Jesus. Perhaps, just perhaps there were those who could no longer view the synagogue as a viable conduit for G-d, and thus sought a Moses-like figure who would embody that presence? I mean, I'm not calling Christianity out, here, but it seems like the classic case of the confused mass not recognizing that G-d would not identify himself through man, necessarily. I think it's a fascinating though, but one that directly connects the two situations -- golden cafe to Jesus.