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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Shutdown and the Golden Calf

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I’m a person accustomed to following a routine. If I’m five minutes late for an appointment, or I sleep past my alarm or I have to do something at the last minute, I feel overwhelmed and I panic.

Lately, my panic mode has been thrust into overdrive. Whenever I read a headline that the lockdown won’t be over for a few months or perhaps even years, I become anxious. The fact that there may not be a vaccine for at least a year and a half frightens me. I’m upset that I might not be able to go to shul for a long time.

When I converted to Judaism, I learned that every convert was at Mount Sinai at the giving of the Torah, an occasion we will celebrate at the end of next week on Shavuot. I don’t have any recollection of it, of course, but I sincerely hope I was not one of the souls that worshipped the golden calf. However, I can empathize with the Children of Israel in that moment of desperation.

A detail from “Moses With the Ten Commandments” by Rembrandt (1659) Courtesy of Wikipedia

Moses told them he was going up the mountain and he’d be back in 40 days. They miscalculated the amount of time he was away and feared he wouldn’t return. They revolted, and built a golden calf they could worship instead of HaShem. Only the Levites didn’t participate, which is why they ended up receiving special privileges.

This was one of the darkest events in our history, and also the pinnacle of our people’s bad behavior. First, they complained about the desert, even though HaShem supplied shelter in the form of a moving cloud and protection from their enemies. They wanted to go back to Egypt because they missed the food there, even though they had the manna to get them through. And through all their kvetching, the amazingly patient Moses prayed to HaShem and advocated for them.

The CHILDREN OF ISRAEL at Mount Sinai were given an opportunity to demonstrate their faith but they failed the test. I don’t want to fail the test.

I can’t help but compare this shutdown to when the Children of Israel were waiting for Moses to descend from the mountaintop. I’ve found myself acting the same way so many times during the shutdown. I’ve been angrier than I’ve been in years. I’ve worshipped my own golden calf in the form of junk food, the media and workaholism. I’ve given into fantastical and unhealthy thinking. I’ve let my emotions run wild.

But I can’t change what’s happening in the world around me; all I can do is change my reaction to it. I can act out of faith and love instead of fear and anxiety — something the  Children of Israel were not able to do.

Unlike them, I can recognize the miracles HaShem constantly is performing, including making sure I have shelter, food and good health. And it’s OK if I slip up sometimes, as long as I don’t make it a habit.

When all this is over, I hope I remember this period as a time of great spiritual growth. The Children of Israel at Mount Sinai were given an opportunity to demonstrate their faith but they failed the test. I don’t want to fail the test. I want to demonstrate my faith in HaShem and gratitude for my very blessed life.

These metaphorical 40 days may seem like they’re lasting forever but rest assured: redemption is coming soon.


Kylie Ora Lobell is a Journal contributing writer.

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