There seems to be a growing gap between Israeli and Diaspora Jews – whether the issue is controversy over the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, or over the attempts of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate to gain a monopoly over conversions, or over the growing racism among sectors of the population. Was there ever a time when our people enjoyed unity? And is there a way to achieve that state today? A commentary to our double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pikudey, suggests that there was indeed such a time.
This Torah portion is known for its story of the Golden Calf, built when Moshe failed to return from the mountain on exactly the 40th day as expected. The people panicked, thought Moshe was dead, and that God had abandoned them. Aaron, ever the peace-lover, reasoned that the people needed a visible symbolic representation of God to reassure them. The People were not denying the God of the first commandment, but rather broke the second commandment prohibiting the building of idols. When Moshe returned with the tablets, he was indignant and smashed the tablets to show that the covenant between God and the Children of Israel had been shattered.
[On February 14th] the town of Parkland, Florida made the news because of a school shooting that left 17 people dead—most of them teenagers. There are now about 5 such shootings each month in America. Since 20 first graders were killed in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, there have been some 239 school shootings, taking 138 innocent lives, injuring and traumatising countless more. That is, since I’ve been with you here in Sydney, 240 school shootings have taken place in America, and many more at large public venues, like music concerts and night clubs.
This week’s Parasha, Ki Tisa, illustrates, among other lessons, how ordinary, mundane administrative matters of life – like the taking of a census and fiscal upkeep of a community – interface with grand and dramatic episodes of life: the revelation of cosmic truths translated into human terms.