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Idolatry

A Concrete Relationship with God

In Parashat Ki Tisa, the Israelites wait for Moses to return from the mountaintop. Feeling insecure with a lack of leadership, they tell Aaron to create a Golden Calf.

D'var Torah By: 
Religion as a Way to Reach Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jason Rosenberg

One of the lessons of Parashat Ki Tisa is that we need concrete reminders, symbols, of our fundamental ideas. But while we embrace them we have to remember that these symbols — whether they be physical, ritual, textual, or other — exist for us, not for God. 

On Repentance and Seeking Peace Above and Below

"And Moses went (Vayeilech) and spoke these words to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:1). This opening marks the beginning, not only of the parashah, but also of the long death scene for Moses that will not be completed until the very end of the Torah two portions hence. Traditional commentators noticed an unusual locution. Usually the Torah reads "And Moses spoke … " Only here does it say "And Moses went and spoke … "

D'var Torah By: 
God Goes with Us On the Road to Repentance
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Weissman

Dr. Firestone beautifully suggests that vayeilech Moshe, "Moses went," means that Moses went to the Israelites before his death and spoke words of t'shuvah, encouraging the people to repent, and to pursue peace between each other and between each of them and God. Just a few verses later, the word "to go" appears again, only this time it is God who "goes."

Torah and Taliban: Is There Something in Common?

In a particularly graphic moment, one of the instructions received in our weekly reading is "...to destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and on hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site" (Deuteronomy 12:2-3). This is a clear directive to destroy all the sites at which the native Canaanites worshipped throughout the sacred Land of Israel.

D'var Torah By: 
Following Difficult Instructions with a Goal to Pursue Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Suzy Stone

One of the most troubling aspects of this week's Torah portion is the commandment cited above in Deuteronomy 12:2-3, which requires the invading Israelites to destroy all forms, and places, of foreign worship.

As Rabbi Firestone notes, this commandment was limited to Land of Israel, which in turn limited the scope of this harsh decree. Additionally, I appreciate Rabbi Firestone's suggestion that this commandant was meant to mollify the temptation felt by a young nation coming into its own spiritual, and physical, home.

Monotheism and the Problem of Truth

"You shall have no other gods beside Me!" This is the first of Aseret HaDib'rot, literally the "Ten Declarations" or "Ten Commandments" found in this week's parashah, Va-et'chanan (see Deuteronomy 5:2-18; we recited a slightly different version earlier in the year in Parashat Yitro, Exodus, chapter 20). Aseret HaDib'rot lays out the central terms of an exclusive covenant between God and Israel. After a brief prologue in which God self-identifies as the One who freed Israel from Egyptian bondage, the first declaration occurs in the form of a command that Israel take no other gods in addition to the God of Israel: "You shall have no other gods beside Me!"

D'var Torah By: 
Relentless Striving for Truth Helps Us Connect to God
Davar Acher By: 
Dan Moskovitz

My teacher Dr. Revuen Firestone raises critical questions in his commentary on this week's parashah: Is there one "Truth" (with a capital T)? Can there be multiple truths? He concludes, as our Torah teaches, that some truths are beyond our understanding, some answers will always elude us. But we are duty bound as Jews to pursue them even if we are "striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Can You Really Ask God That?

This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisainterrupts the description of the building of the Tabernacle with a long narrative section that includes the story of the Golden Calf, the smashing of the Ten Commandments, the carving of the second set of tablets, and — although perhaps less famously — the most chutzpadik (impertinent) question in the whole Torah.

The question comes after Moses has negotiated twice with God on behalf of the Israelites: first, with moderate success, when he asks God to forgive the people for the sin of the idolatrous Golden Calf; and second, when he successfully convinces God to lead the Israelites along the next stage of their journey.

But Moses' next negotiation with God is not on behalf of the Israelites, but for himself. Out of the blue, it seems, just as God has acceded to his second request, Moses speaks up again. "Oh, let me behold Your Presence!" he says to God (Exodus 33:18).

D'var Torah By: 
Anger and the Voice of (Almost) Reason
Davar Acher By: 
Rachel Ackerman

The dance between Moses and God is always a complicated one, and Ki Tisa offers us no exception.

Just as Moses nears the end of his 40 days and nights atop Mount Sinai and finishing touches are being put on the tablets, God urges Moses to hurry down the mountain because God wants to be left alone to destroy the Israelites for having built the Golden Calf.

But Moses begs God not to destroy these people, telling God that doing so would bring into question God's motives in the first place and make God out to be evil. And God relents to Moses.

Hiding from Ourselves

The Chasidic tradition brings us the following story:

D'var Torah By: 
Asking Questions with Eyes Wide Open
Davar Acher By: 
Jason Fenster

Something felt different this year. Tragedy after tragedy opened our eyes to injustice in new, heartbreaking ways.

Looking on the Bright Side

Sometimes, I feel that a lot of people—including some Jews themselves—see Jews as a collective Eeyore. Take this quotation from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh:

D'var Torah By: 
Challenged to Reduce Our Joy
Davar Acher By: 
Joel Mosbacher

I know, I know. It can seem like we’re a depressed people, always focusing on the negative. You know what they say about every Jewish holiday: “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”

Shattering the Tablets...For Our Sake

"As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain." (Exodus 32:

D'var Torah By: 
Moses' Aura
Davar Acher By: 
Audrey Friedman Marcus

"And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with God.

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