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“Shabbat and the Golden Calf,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

February 18, 2022 | 17 Adar I 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we make our way toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

If only the Israelite people had known what had happened to Moses. He was supposed to return on the 40th day from his ascent into the cloud covered mountain to commune with the Divine. They had already supplied their consent to the rules and laws. “Na’aseh v’nishmah!” We will do and we will heed. (Some translate as “We will faithfully do.”)

They didn’t wait patiently for Moses’ return. The commentator, Abarbanel, imagined that from the very first day, the people relentlessly turned to Aaron to do something because they presumed from the beginning Moses had died. By the 40th day, they could wait no longer.

What they could not have known was that at the very same time God had just described the value of Shabbat to Moses.

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 יהוה made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day [God] ceased from work and was refreshed.

(Exodus 31: 16-17)

Guarding and engaging Shabbat would keep the people together and create a kind of discipline to the cosmic order sanctified by the Divine. Though they could not see Shabbat, their actions would make it manifest. God instructed Moses to carry this very idea to the Jewish People awaiting his arrival.

Alas, distracted by their own fears and anxiety to do something, anything, the people created an alternative to their leader and to God who had redeemed them from slavery. They rejected the very commandment they had already heard. No other gods.

But between Shabbat and the golden calf was the presence of God. This verse separates the two:

Upon finishing speaking with [Moses] on Mount Sinai, [God] gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God. (31:18)

Maybe God knew — after all God does know — that humans are imperfect. They transgress. They lead with their emotions. And yet, there is a way back to a place of purity, of correction, of teshuvah. Shabbat would be their way back. Perhaps that is why Shabbat was the last instruction on the mountain before God finished speaking with Moses and presented him with the two tablets inscribed by the (metaphorical) finger of God.

Each act of celebration,

Each moment of transcendence of time to refresh one’s breath,

Each opportunity to share blessing and song,

Each gathering to recognize that together in community, we find strength,

Shabbat would be the antidote to the material human needs we crave and remind us of the power of the spiritual, that which we cannot see but can truly experience as sacred.

As Ahad Ha’am assured us: More than the Jewish People has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.

Shabbat Shalom!

  • We gather for Qabbalat Shabbat, onsite and online at 6:00 p.m. No need to register; just come! Or join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Riverway gathers onsite at 7:00 p.m. and online at 7:30 p.m. Register here.
  • Come share in a wonderful opportunity to learn with Rabbi Andrea Weiss, PhD, who we are thrilled to welcome as our Torah Study teacher at 9:00 a.m. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • 10:00 a.m. Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat at home.  Please register here.
  • We say goodbye to Shabbat and welcome a new week at 8:00 p.m. with Havdalah Join on Zoom.

Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom!