Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Ki Tisa

One of my absolutely all time very favorite conversations in Torah happens in this week’s portion. On the heels of the Golden Calf’s creation, God gets angry and screams at Moses, “Moses, YOUR people, Who YOU led out of Egypt are …” and God goes on to berate the people and promise their destruction. Moses gets in Gods’ face, “Vayakhel Moshe el p’nae Elohim.” Moses reminds God that Israel is GOD’S people, who GOD led from Egypt, and adds that if God can go back on the promise of making this a great nation, God cannot be trusted.

I live a tradition that takes the Torah as an allegory. Whether or not this conversation is historical is of little consequence … to me. We can never know exactly what happened in the past, especially when no eyewitnesses existed. Believing it to be … or not to be history are both acts of faith. It has enormous spiritual value either way. That our tradition empowers us to be God’s indispensable partners is huge. For those who believe that this is history, this conversation also has huge theological ramifications. Moses shames God into the realization that God needs us as much as we need God … even while there are times that neither of us sees clearly.

I am in Israel this week, and the debate over what God wants plays out on the front page of every news source. Sometimes, God is mentioned. Sometimes, God is not. In every case, though, the debate over how this land is to flourish or languish roots in the notion that people are living out God’s design. The flashpoints seem to all focus around who God thinks is and is not holy. Perhaps the most impacting flashpoint in the news now involves the “Wall.” The controversy over who has rights to determine appropriate ways and paces to pray at it sparks a difficult and vitriolic of words and occasionally threatened violence.

The Israeli government just approved (without formal law) an egalitarian section of the wall, not under the auspices of the Chief Orthodox Rabbinate. My Reform Jewish movement hails this amazing victory. Politically speaking, it is an amazing victory. From a position of holiness, however … wherever one lies on the idea of whether the site itself is holy ground, there is no holiness in what it has done to splinter the Jewish people’s commitment to each other’s holiness.

The Rosh Yeshiva of an egalitarian Orthodox Seminary argues a very sad, but absolutely on point position when he writes that because the wall (kotel) has become a political lightning rod, we have stolen any sense of holiness from it. Here is the link to the article written by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardoza – – read it. Perhaps, the best answer is to shut the wall down.

Moses’ argument with God rings in my ears, now. The debate over holiness and partnership rages uncontrolled now. Screaming at each other about which group is righteous and which is evil; which of us is God and which is Moses … is the unholiest of conversations. God has no place in the midst of politics. Talmud reminds us that God’s influence is for healing and not destruction (perhaps someone should tell that to our Presidential candidates in the United States who keep throwing God at each other).

Yes, eventually, we will all have access to the wall. Eventually, we will settle into a political place where egalitarian rules are accepted as necessary, even while disdained. What damage do we cause each other along the way? We have turned the wall into the Golden Calf. It is an idol by all who worship holding power over it. Sadly, this is only one such debate. The attempt to control a woman’s body; the imposition of rights that discriminate against people because of who they love; the attempt to politicize, who owns God are all acts of unholy idolatry. As I go to lead an interfaith Shabbat prayer service at this “egalitarian” piece of the wall tonight, I will cry tears of sadness for what is. I will cry tears of hope for what I still pray can be. I am a prisoner of hope, and have to believe that the day will come when we realize how we defame God in this, and so many other politicizations of personally moral convictions. The Torah commands us to always choose life and peace. My hope and prayer is that we find both.

IF we could stop the rhetoric and look into each other’s eyes, perhaps we would find ourselves not looking at the hatred that spews from our mouths, but rather the love that each of us holds for people who are dear … and then find ways in which to hold each other more dearly. Shabbat Shalom.