In his wonderful book, Ten Sheaves, Rabbi Paul J. Citrin reminds us:
“Idolatry is more than the worship of a statue” (p. 117).
It is a vital lesson to remember as we read the retelling of the incident of the Golden calf in Ekev, this Shabbat’s Torah portion.
My revered Bible professor Chanan Brichto repeatedly reminded us:
“Idol worship is selfishness and greed. It is a failure to live up to God’s ideals of justice, righteousness, concern for others less fortunate than we.”
In this week’s reading, after an eloquent recitation of all God had done for the people and God’s hopes for their future, the Torah retells the heartbreaking story of their great apostasy.
After God freed them from slavery and brought them to Mount Sinai where they received the charge to be examples of God’s values to the world, the sin the Children of Israel committed was far worse than “worship of a statue.”
Indeed the Israelites rejected the Ten Commandments, which they had just received, and all for which God stands.
God is so furious that the Eternal One threatens to destroy the people. Bravely, Moses–in what arguably is his greatest moment–restrains the Eternal One.
And so begins the arduous forty-year journey of instructing the newly freed slaves in what God wants from them.
Three thousand plus years later we are still trying to assimilate those values.
Learning not to worship statues has been relatively easy. But learning to create the just, caring and compassionate society God wants has proved more elusive.
Thanks to Moses for convincing God not to give up on us, and thanks to God for holding back the Divine wrath we deserved.
But after all this time God’s patience must be wearing thin at how little progress we have made.
Scientists may scoff at me, but I advise us all to view the despoliation of our environment and the increase we have witnessed in natural disasters around the globe as a sign of God’s displeasure.
What can we do? Small things.
- Stop and talk to the guy on the street with a sign asking for change and a beaten down look on his face.
- Give him a dollar or two. You won’t miss it.
- Volunteer to tutor a child struggling to learn to read.
- Contribute to a local food bank.
The list is endless.
Change begins with each of us, and each of us can, like Moses, forestall God’s wrath by turning from idol worship.
But we can do more!
By performing small acts of kindness and compassion we can evoke God’s pleasure!