September 21, 2018

When Bulls Collide – A Poem for Haftarah Ki Tisa by Rick Lupert

Let barbecue decide your faith –
On one side, Baal, four hundred and
fifty men, the type who might melt
down jewelry and worship anything,
Their bull – cut into pieces and
laid on altar.

On the other, the Prophet Elijah,
famous from all the songs, repping
the Lord, a similar cut-up bull on display,
only wetted down to make it tougher,
his inevitable victory, all the more
impressive.

The challenger’s up first –
praying to Baal for smoked meat
They get nothing. They hop on
their altar in response to the nothing.
It’s uncomfortably close to Easter to
not mention the hopping.

Elijah, after a bit of unbecoming
tauntery – does his thing in the manner
which it should be done. God takes
notice and rains fire from the sky.
Who’s up for steak? I mean, not me.
I’m a vegetarian but

the victory is clear. The Kingdom
in the north has been worshipping
a bunch of Baal. Meanwhile in the south
Elijah hasn’t forgotten the lesson of
the Golden Calf. It’s his name we
call for when the sun sets

on Saturday nights, and the pain of
six days of temptation begins. It’s his name
we call for after the last taste of Matzah
closes our celebration of Freedom
It is the Lord who cooks my tofu.
I look for fire from the sky.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Parashat Ki Tisa with with Rabbi David Kosak

David Kosak of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland Oregon is a 30th generation rabbi, but his path to the rabbinate had its own plot twists. His first career as a chef and entrepreneur brought him out West from his native New York, where he had earned a BA in Philosophy from NYU.  His formal education includes an MA in Rabbinics from the American Jewish University (formerly the University of Judaism).  David pursued advanced studies at Mechon Schechter, Hebrew University, Yakar Torah Center for Tradition and Creativity, and the Hartman Institute, all in Jerusalem.  He received his Rabbinic Ordination in 2006 from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Bel Air, California. His post-ordination studies include a stint as a STAR fellow and advanced courses on areas of Jewish law such as Gittin (Jewish divorce) and industrial kashrut.

This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) – begins with the census of the people of Israel and with further instructions concerning the Tabernacle and the Shabbat. The portion then proceeds to tell the story of the Golden Calf, Moses’ plea to god, the splitting of the Tablets into two, and the giving of the second tablets. Our discussion focuses, among other things, on the reason behind the people of Israel’s discontent and on the possible role of Moses’ leadership in their sin.

 

More Rosner Torah Talks on Ki Tisa:

Rabbi Rachel Ain

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik

Rabbi Charles Arian

 

 

 

7 Haiku for Parsha Ki Tisa (God’s got “back”) by Rick Lupert

I
An artist hired
for a major project. Here
is my half shekel.

II
Three thousand idol
worshippers executed.
Lesson of gold calf.

III
Moses is selfish.
He tries to sign God to an
exclusive contract.

IV
God’s got back…and that
is all any human will
be able to see.

V
The One with thirteen
merciful attributes has
got our stiff necked backs.

VI
You should not cook a
kid in its mother’s milk. Don’t
worry. They mean goats.

VII
Moses comes down the
mountain with the new tablets.
Hide the molten gods.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The arithmetic of trust

Moses Breaks the Tables of the Law. Photo from Wikipedia.

Parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

“[Moses] hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them … ”  — Exodus 32:19

The shattering of the Ten Commandments in this week’s parsha after Moses finds the Israelites with the golden calf is the shattering of trust. Think of a moment when your trust was broken. Do you remember the pain of betrayal, when the covenant carved into stone that you thought was solid and eternal was all at once demolished?

Of course you do. No one forgets.

I believe that trust is a delicate compound of truthfulness and tenderness. And today, we are sorely lacking in both elements.

Truth is delicate. It is a fabric easily stretched and torn. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify the true fabric of truth amid so many well-crafted synthetics. We are surrounded by what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness,” which he defines as something that a person making an argument claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts.

Photos are filtered. Bodies are nipped and tucked. Resumes are enhanced. Diplomas are doctored. Reality shows are staged. Facts are altered. We live in an era when more than speaking truth to power, we ache for power to speak truth.

And yet, the truth, too, can be brutal. In Paul Simon’s song “Tenderness,” he sings: “You say you care for me, but there’s no tenderness beneath your honesty/ You don’t have to lie to me, just give me some tenderness beneath your honesty.”

The rabbis say that in order to preserve shalom bayit, peace in the home, every now and then a small fib is OK. In fact, Talmud gives examples of when it is preferable to lie. What does one say to a bride? Even if she is lame and blind, one is to say how graceful and beautiful she is. I would argue that shalom bayit is not about dishonesty. It’s about delivering truthfulness on a cushion of tenderness. You might think the bride is unattractive, but her partner doesn’t, and when we learn to perceive through loving eyes, we are elevated.

Truthfulness plus tenderness equals trust.

In the Talmud, Rava, who lived around the year 300, said: At the hour you enter heaven for judgment, they will ask you, “Nasata v’natata b’emunah?” (“Did you deal honestly with people in your business?”)

There are systems in this world, many, where dealing honestly with one another is not a high priority. Where girls are offered jobs overseas and then are lost in the sex trade. Where bribes corrupt organizations and obstruct every avenue toward justice. Where everyone and everything is for sale, and no one is safe.

And yet, we are a network, a symbiotic relational push-and-pull, give-and-take system. We are all in the same boat, and if I drill a hole under my seat, it affects you. We are connected. Everything depends on trust.

Every time we drop off our kids at school, we trust that they are in caring hands. Every time the light turns yellow, we trust that cars are going to slow to a stop. Every time we make a deposit, we trust our money is safe.

Too much trust can be dangerous — we would be foolish to trust everyone. But trustworthiness is not dangerous. To be on time, respect boundaries, act with sincerity, deliver honesty with tenderness, create safe environments, keep confidentiality — these are what make you trustworthy, sought after, admired and adored.

So while Rava did not say to trust everyone, and he didn’t promise that everyone else will have honest weights and measures, he said you need to be trusted. You have to have honest weights and measures. Success depends on how much you’ve cultivated other people’s trust in you.

On our dollar bill it reads: “In God we trust.” The touchpoint of our entire network of exchange reminds us that we are bound to a trusteeship with God, that our life is our true asset, our breath is our capital, our soul is our fortune.

God leases everything to us. The Torah is the Deed, which we seal with our good deeds, and our good deeds inspire others and accumulate interest. For some God-knows-why reason, God sees trustworthiness in us, and God appoints us the trustees of this supreme gift.

This despite the fact that the shattered shards of trust are scattered all around us. And as we all well know, it takes a lot of time, patience and stamina to put trust back together. Even after new covenants are at last established, we still each carry those broken bits with us.

Moses says in our Torah portion, “Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own!” (Exodus 34:9). The Israelites built the golden calf because they did not have enough trust in God, and afterward, they had to work hard to regain God’s trust. May truthfulness and tenderness inform our relationships with one another and with God.

Rabbi Zoe Klein is senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah.

Torah Portion: All that glitters is not gold

Where does the expression “Break the rules” come from? Perhaps from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa:

“Moses turned and went down from the mountain carrying the two tablets of the Pact. … As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the golden 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 32:15-19).

So who was the first rule breaker? Moses for shattering the tablets? Or the Israelites for dancing around the golden calf a mere 40 days after promising Moses, “Everything that God has spoken, we will do!” (Exodus 19:8)?

Let’s give the children of Israel a little leeway. Even though time passes quickly for most of us, those 40 days for the Israelites must have seemed an eternity. Picture it: After the most awe-inspiring episode of thunder and lightning ever, the mountain quaking, the shofar sounding and The Voice — God’s voice, no less — ringing out from the top of a mountain, Moses and God have disappeared together on the top of that scary mountain for 40 days — out of earshot, out of sight, driving the Israelites nearly out of their minds with anxiety and fear. 

Here they are, having followed an unfamiliar God and a strange man out of Egypt, across a parted sea, into an unfamiliar wilderness only to be left alone for weeks — with nary a tweet or an email to comfort them or ease the stress. No wonder they gathered “against” Aaron, brother of Moses, and said to him, “Come on, make us a god who will walk before us, for that man Moses, zeh Moshe ha-ish, who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him, lo-yadanu mah hayah lo” (Exodus 32:1).

And Aaron responded as so many teenagers do when their parents leave them unchaperoned: “Hey, everybody, party at my house this weekend!” And he makes them a golden calf to dance around as they cheerfully empty the liquor cabinet.

But what is it really about when the kids (or adults) party too hard? When golden calves come along to substitute for the God who speaks to our better selves?

What’s it for you? What’s your golden calf? What are you finding to worship instead of God? What unhealthy ways have you found to distract you from your worries?

It doesn’t have to be an obsession or an addiction. It doesn’t even have to be something bad to begin with that turns unconsciously into something “golden calf-ish,”something less healthy than you or God intended. 

On top of the mountain, Moses and God thought they were creating something so marvelous for the Israelites down there at the foot of the mountain. They were so into what they were doing for 40 days nonstop that they didn’t even notice that the Israelites missed them, didn’t imagine that the children of Israel might be wishing that they’d just come home for dinner with the family once in awhile. For the Israelites, God and Moses saying, “But I made these tablets especially for you” didn’t really cut it. Maybe the tablets of the law were Moses’ and God’s golden calf.

Those golden calves, they’re seductive. They start out seeming so innocent. And we can so easily lose track of how much attention we are paying them, and how little attention we are giving to other, more important aspects of our lives. They can take our freedom away without our even noticing. 

Is there a cure for golden calf worship?

I’m not the first person to notice the interesting juxtaposition in the text. The last thing God writes down for Moses before handing the tablets over and sending him down the mountain to the disturbance below are some very familiar words: 

V’shamru v’nai Yisrael et ha-Shabbat la-ahsot et ha-Shabbat l’doratam brit olam . . . The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time — it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days, God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God ceased from work and was refreshed shavat va-yinafash (Exodus 31:16-17).

“Va-yinafash” comes from the same root as nefesh, meaning soul, spirit, breath. If at least one day out of seven we stop doing what we do the other six, God offers us a “soul rest” (shavat va-yinafash). You don’t need to dance around a golden calf to receive it. You get it from stopping the usual for long enough to become aware of the unusual. 

In Parashat Ki Tisa, Shabbat comes a little late to the Israelite dance party at the foot of Mount Sinai, and maybe even to Moses and God, who are working so hard on the mountaintop. But it comes right on time to us placed in the context of this story of the golden calf, this story of what can go awry when we miss the opportunity — when we choose not to take the opportunity — to replenish and refresh our own souls.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards is senior rabbi of Beth Chayim Chadashim (

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Ki Tisa: Anxiety and Desire

This post originally appeared on Neesh Noosh.

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, an epic moment occurs when Moses descends Mount Sinai with the tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments and finds the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf. He throws down the tablets, shattering them.  How can one understand the Israelites creation and worship of the Golden Calf? Were their actions actually predictable and expected?

Yael Shy of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality describes the Israelites feelings then as “The Fire of Anxiety.” She writes, “When Aaron throws the gold in the fire, the people are filled with terror and anxiety. Moses has been gone for over a month. They are terrified of being abandoned, of being alone.“

The Israelites vulnerability, fear and struggles are human experiences.  I am at a moment in my life where I feel like I’m waiting for a huge answer to appear—like the Israelites impatiently waiting for Moses to come down the mountain with the 10 Commandments. After 15 years of living in California, I just left the state. My belongings are in storage, I said good-bye to friends and family and celebrated one last time with my community at Purim last night. We are driving across country to the East Coast. Ironically, the first stop is the ultimate city of idol worship (and one of my least

favorite places): Las Vegas. The full route hasn’t even been planned yet. My new home location is TBD—the East Coast or Israel. It’s a huge challenge and the process has been dotted with spurts of anxiety. There will be mistakes made and lots of challenges along the way as I figure out my next steps.

During such a period, Yael Shy asks,“How  do  we  use  our  fires  to  create  careful  and  holy  work  when  our  bodies  are  going  crazy  with  anxiety?” The answer, she suggests, is stillness, found through observing Shabbat. She describes the flip side of the Fire of Anxiety (the Golden Calf) as the Fire of Desire (the solicitation of gold by Moses in next week’s parsha). I’m moving physically (quickly) and internally (more slowly) from the Fire of Anxiety to the Fire of Desire as I transition out of Los Angeles to a quiet Shabbat in the mountains of Durango, Colorado.

And, of course I will continue writing Neesh Noosh no matter where I am, and look forward to sharing with you the new farmers and markets that I encounter on my journey!

The recipe for Ki Tisa is made with smashed potatoes and sprinkled with turmeric.  The smashed potatoes represent the Tablets. The Golden Calf was burned and ground into a powder by Moses, represented in the dish as turmeric sprinkled over the potatoes.

Smashed potatoes with turmeric

Ingredients

  • 4-6 potatoes
  • 1/2-1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Scrub potatoes and pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place into a pot of boiling water and cook until tender, approximately 30-40 minutes.
3. Once finished, remove from water and let drain on dishtowels to cool.
4. Using your hand or a knife, press on potatoes to flatten them.
5. Transfer the potatoes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, and add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast until crispy brown, approximately 30 minutes.
6. Once done, remove from oven, transfer to a platter and sprinkle turmeric powder over them.

 

B’tayavon!

Torah Portion: Hiding our faces

On Mount Sinai, Moses begs God, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence” (Exodus 33:18), and God agrees to allow God’s goodness to pass before Moses. God instructs Moses, “Station yourself on the rock and as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back, but My face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:21-23).

Our sages debate about what Moses saw. Rashi explains Moses saw the knot on the back of God’s tefillin. Nachmanides suggests if Adam was originally created with two faces, one in front and one in back, and that man is created in God’s image, that Moses must have seen God’s face in back. 

Ibn Ezra teaches that we cannot take this literally — that God has no material form, and what Moses sees is a mystery and a metaphor. Gersonides explains that “My back” means “the events I leave in My wake,” which Sforno says means that Moses will see how everything comes from God but not the details of how the existence of everything comes from the existence of God.

No matter how you read this text, our sages all agree that while there may be something of God that Moses can see, God’s face (whatever that may be) remains hidden. Even with Moses, God hides part of God’s self. It is no wonder we sometimes struggle with finding God; our Torah and our tradition teach that God is a mystery we cannot solve.

Later in this same portion, we learn Moses’ face is radiant when he comes off the mountain, and our tradition suggests the glow comes from that experience with God — that the light of God clung to him and shone like rays from his skin. At first the Israelites are afraid, and we learn that after delivering the teachings from God, Moses puts on a veil to cover his face. We are then told, “Whenever Moses went in before God to speak, he would leave the veil off until he came out; and when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see how radiant the skin of Moses’ face was. Moses would then put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with God” (Exodus 34:34-35).

Like God, Moses is also concealing his face. Again, our sages disagree about why Moses hides behind a veil. Explanations abound. Midrash tells us the Israelites’ guilt about the golden calf prevents them from looking at Moses. Rashi writes that the veil is to prevent the people from staring at Moses and distracting him. Gersonides explains Moses needed to tone down his new, higher spiritual state to deal with the people. Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, teaches that Moses absorbed light when talking to God in the Tent of Meeting and then radiated that light outward when teaching the Israelites what he learned, and after teaching he put the veil back on so the ignorant would not see the light depart from his face.

Again we see there are many reasons to hide one’s face. Sometimes we hide because we are afraid of how others will respond to us; other times we may hide parts of ourselves so we only put our best face forward. It can be out of self-preservation. It may imply that we are not always free to be our true selves.

Moses had to be many things to many people. His role as prophet was not the same as his role as teacher of Torah or his role as judge between the people. Perhaps to do each of these things well, Moses had to emphasize one part of his nature over another, or perhaps — like God — he only shared certain parts of himself.

This week we celebrated Purim, a holiday that celebrates the hidden. God remains hidden in the book of Esther, the only book of the Tanakh that does not contain God’s name. Esther knows there is a time to conceal and a time to reveal; had she revealed herself as a Jew too soon, she might not have had the ear of the king and would not have been able to influence him. Had she waited much longer, Haman might have succeeded with his evil plot. 

We celebrated Purim by hiding ourselves behind masks and costumes. We are reminded that sometimes when wearing a mask, we are at our most exposed. When we think we are hidden, we feel freer to be ourselves; not just the silliness we indulge in when we are in costume, but the way we sing in the shower or dance when nobody is looking. And when we are so obvious about hiding our faces, we can’t help but think of all the subtler ways we hide — the times we don’t speak up for fear of being criticized, the times we look the other way so we don’t have to take action.

There are many reasons we may hide. Our sages tried to understand why God and Moses hid parts of themselves. Our Torah teaches us that we each have to decide what remains a mystery, and when it is time to stop hiding ourselves and lift
the veil. 

Rabbi Shawna Brynjegard-Bialik is a rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.