Parashat Ki Tissa

Up And Down The Mountain Of Life

The Israelites worshipped the Golden Calf because they lost an awareness of God; when we are aware of the presence of God, we become holy and make the right choices

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Your Guide

How does the understanding of God, worship, and faith expressed by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev differ from that expressed at the time of Moses? What impact has the Diaspora had on this evolution?

Does Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev think that we have to be high up on a mountain to talk with our personal God?

According to the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa, how do good and evil register in our consciousness? What explanation do you think that each of them would offer for why we do bad things?

How do you think that Debbie Friedman and Miriam Harel would interpret the tune that Moses heard? What characteristics do you think make a tune joyful or sad or warlike?

D'var Torah

Moses' journey is similar to that of our own lives in both existential and mundane ways. The Torah teaches us that Moses went up the mountain and met there with God: He journeyed upward to a place that was wholly pure and divine, a place where God dwelled.

Meanwhile, the Israelites were left down on the ground, growing more and more agitated with each passing day. Finally, they lost their faith and returned to familiar territory--their instinctual desire to see in front of them something they valued, namely, a Golden Calf. In that moment, there was no God for the Israelites; there may not even have been a Moses for them, with him out of sight and his authority absent from their consciousness. This led them to idolatry.

When we are aware of the Presence of God, we become holy, and our choices are clear. We don't oppress other people, and we spend our money carefully. We are not covetous; we are grateful for what we have every day of our lives; and we strive for inner peace and contentment. When we doubt, we become lost and our values become unclear; eventually we are led to idolatry and to worship what we can see, namely, our diplomas, cars, houses, clothes, etc.

But if each of us strives to meet with God every day, I believe that our priorities would become clear: We would journey up and down that mountain of Sinai, striving to leave the faithless, chaotic, lost bottom and to journey up and up, around and around to the top. We may never get there, but, as we know, life itself is the journey. We are all headed to the same place in the end, and it's how we get there that matters.

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Jennifer Werby is the cantor of Congregation B'nai Yisrael in Armonk, NY