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3.2.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 7:33 pm
by RabbiMark
This week's parashah gives us one of the starkest reflections of our split nature, of the often conflicting inclinations that make us both imperfect beings and holy souls. This is reflected by the trials endured and created by the Israelites and Aaron in the tragedy of the golden calf. These struggles also provide the basis for future growth and transformation by the community and its leaders.

The narrative opens with Moses and GD, alone on the mountain top, continuing their conversation about the various laws and instructions that will govern life for the Israelites. Meanwhile, at the base of the mountain, the Israelite community is growing more and more restless as Moses' absence stretches from days into weeks. Eventually the separation from their leader - who led them out from Egypt from slavery to freedom - becomes too intolerable, and they act out in the most dramatic of ways. This prevailing sense of separation and aloneness drives them to search for relief in “old behaviors,” which for them, was a mis-guided channeling their worship and spiritual devotion towards a false god, in the form of a golden calf.

The Egyptian society, which the Israelites had only recently left behind, glorified the material world. So much so, that they made the spiritual realm manifest through the physical, as seen by their proclivity for ornate pyramids and statues. In view of this, it is not so hard to imagine how, in a state of overwhelming fear and anxiety, the Israelites reverted back to these familiar ways of coping by seeking and embracing symbols in the physical world. Nonetheless, it's essential to remember that just a few weeks prior to their fashioning the golden calf they had the most intimate of collective spiritual encounters - a moment so sublime that they “saw thunder and heard lightening” and were blessed to receive GD's revelation of the Ten Commandments. Alas, despite the incredible awesomeness of that moment, their despair quickly interfered with their spiritual centering and eventually led them to seek out a more accessible, but unholy, form of connection. For me, knowing that these individuals were still in the very early stages of recovering from the trauma of oppressive slavery gives some context to the wide gap between their demonstrated faith in GD and their continual tantrums, outbursts, and unfaithfulness.

A hallmark of the Beit T’Shuvah program, as a program founded upon principles of compassion, is our striving to meet people where they’re at, especially during the early stages of their recovery process. While it’s easier to accept the Israelites’ shortcomings as a function of their immaturity, making sense of the role that Aaron plays in the episode is more troubling. Over the course of Moses’s leave, Aaron stayed close to the community. In theory, this was a good plan, as Aaron was known as a “man of the people,” a leader deeply connected with people as individuals whose spirit was focused on maintaining peace and good relations amongst community members. However, as some in our community will tell us in all too familiar terms, pushed to an extreme, an eagerness to maintain a state of peace can create an unhealthy dynamic of enabling. As it worked out, the combination of the Israelites’ fears and Aaron’s inability to draw healthy boundaries leads to a catastrophic outcome.

Many factors contribute to the difficulties of creating healthy boundaries. At times, our unwillingness to connect to and honor our own intrinsic holiness causes us to acquiesce to the interest of others at our own (and their) expense. We often associate this shrunken sense of self-worth with a lack of humility, as an unwillingness to claim (and protect) an appropriate amount of personal and relational space.

Not surprisingly, GD’s path of t’shuvah for Aaron contains elements original to his downfall. We’ll see this in a few weeks when Aaron is installed as High Priest, to lead the community in ritual observance. The position required constant humility, humility found through Aaron’s learning from his mistakes and transforming them into reflections of his Holy Soul.

In our continual march from slavery to freedom, may we all learn from the imperfections and transformations of both Aaron and the Israelites.

Chaplain Adam Siegel