Image: The Adoration of the Golden Calf. Painting by Nicolas Poussin. Public Domain.
This week’s Torah portion is full of drama. God commands a tax of a half-shekel, based on the census. This will go for upkeep of the Tabernacle [Mishkan]. We meet a central character of the wilderness years, Betzalel, who will be the general contractor and chief artist for the Mishkan.
God gives two stone tablets to Moses, who carries them down Sinai, only to find that in his absence, the Israelites have panicked and build a calf-idol of gold. (There is a great midrash on this story about what happened when the men asked the women of Israel for their golden earrings.) The Golden Calf story ends in disaster, of course. Moses shatters the tablets and the people who messed around with idolatry get a terrible punishment. The aftermath of these events leaves Moses with rays of light coming from his head, rays that a later generation of Biblical scholars will mistranslate as “horns.”
Some excellent divrei Torah on this portion:
Please Let Me Know Your Ways by Rabbi Robin Podolsky
Can You Really Ask God That? by Rabbi Beth Kalish
Behind the Veil by Anita Silvert
In the Face of It All by Rabbi David Kasher
All that Glitters is not Gold by Rabbi Lisa Edwards
2 Minutes of Torah – Ki Tisa by Rabbi Ellie Steinman [VIDEO]
Can You Teach an Old Calf New Tricks? by Rabbi Seth Goldstein