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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

21. Let's Bring Back Sacred Time

Updated: Apr 8

Can we remember what it feels like to not worry about time and just focus on connection?

Parshah Ki Sisa

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • These people won’t listen to Me, so I’ll… threaten them with a plague

  • We’d probably be okay rollin’ around in our filth if someone hadn’t told us that was gross

  • You can’t microwave Kraft Mac and Cheese for Christmas - the concept of sacred time

  • What if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to constantly stress about time?

  • The babies needed their golden calf to feel safe, which is okay because they were babies

  • It was the politician’s (Aaron’s) responsibility to prevent the Israelites from giving in to their worst impulses

  • “I just gave the people what they wanted,” - said every bad leader ever

  • Using God’s name to excuse atrocities

  • The only way we learn is through being exposed to different cultures

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Exodus 30:11-12*

“Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: “When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them when counting them.” 

When I first read this verse, I exclaimed out loud, “This is ridiculous!” And it is ridiculous. However, if we ascribe to the hypothesis of God as a still-learning middle manager who was given Earth as His first planet, it makes a little more sense. This passage sounds like a desperate attempt to get an unruly population to adhere to His rules. God knew they’d eventually need to take a census for political reasons, and He knew the concept of a census would far outlast His episode of direct involvement in Israel’s immediate affairs.

He wanted to ensure they’d be as honest as possible when conducting a census, and a good way to minimize the risk of people artificially inflating census numbers was to tie census counts to a monetary price. The person who lied lost money. Because God couldn’t say any of that since Israel couldn't comprehend the complexity, He tied it to religious requirements and the threat of a plague!

The goal was to incentivize honesty in the populace.

Exodus 30: 17-19*

“Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: ‘You shall make a copper Laver and its base of copper, for washing; place it between the Tent of Meeting and the Altar, and put water there. From it, Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands together with their feet.’”

This taught the Israelites the basics of hygiene. We’re animals! We’re okay with being dirty. Moments such as this one helped us understand how to elevate ourselves beyond our environment, and how to take care of our bodies as something separate from the environment.

Exodus 30:31-32*

“‘You shall speak to the Children of Israel, saying: "This shall remain for Me oil of sacred anointment for your generations. It shall not be smeared on human flesh and you shall not duplicate it in its formulation.”'" 

This takes the meaning of “secret recipe” to a new extreme, doesn’t it? Why does God care so much about anointing oil?

The goal is to teach the Israelites respect for sacred things. Some things must remain a level above mundane life. For Jews, this is Shabbat. For Christians, it’s Christmas. These rituals are crucially beneficial for our psyche. We need a distinction between normal time and special, sacred time.

Meme of Oprah doing her signature "You Get a You Get a" move. Captioned: "You get a sacred vessel! And you get a sacred vessel!"

If the Israelites used God’s anointing oil recipe willy-nilly, it would cease to be special, and worship, in general, would lose the moral gravitas and focus it requires to impart its lessons.

Exodus 31:12-14*

“‘Hashem said to Moses, saying: ‘Now you, speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “However, you must observe My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy. You shall observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you; its desecreators shall be put to death.”’” 

Speaking of Shabbat. It’s almost impossible to explain the practical benefits and differences of Shabbat because we live in a world where it is so damn difficult to observe Shabbat.

Let’s say we lived in a world with a three-day weekend. Two of those days would be dedicated to doing whatever you wanted to do. If you need to do laundry, you could do laundry. If you wanted to spend 48 hours screaming at your partner for beating you at UNO, you could do that, too.

One of the three days would be sacred. No phones, no news, no TV. You’d walk a few blocks into town and have a large, rambunctious, candlelit dinner with the rest of your community. You’d make love to your partner and go to bed early, only to wake up and have the whole day free. No timetables, no “I want to be out of the house by x o’clock,” and no checking the internet. Just… freedom. And human connection.

Do I wish God could have figured out another way to encourage the Israelites to observe Shabbat without threatening them with death? Absolutely. Shabbat is awesome enough for people to observe it without coercion. But at least He introduced the concept.

Exodus 32:1*

“The people saw that Moses had delayed in descending the mountain, and the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt - we do not know what became of him!’”

This phenomenally embarrassing episode also teaches us much about humanity’s maturity level at the time.

The rabbis’ deserve a gold medal for their verbal gymnastics to explain away Israel’s behaviors. According to them, Israel didn’t intend to worship an idol; they just needed a physical surrogate for Moses.

Okay, bullshit.

They asked Aaron for an idol. This offers a fascinating insight into their psyche, because it shows they were completely incapable of psychological survival unless they had a physical intermediary. They needed something they could see and touch to continue on their path, even if they also witnessed that same thing being shaped into their “god.”

It isn’t indicative of their disobedience as much as it proves their overwhelming infancy. We must keep in mind these events occurred thousands of years ago. This was where we started, and look how far we’ve come!

I confess this verse gave me a sliver of empathy for God. Up until now, I struggled to conceptualize just how much more primitive these people were than us, but this story brings it home. I’m not excusing His actions, but at least I understand His limitations more.

Exodus 32:2-5*

“Aaron said to them, ‘Remove the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, sons, and daughters, and bring them to me.’

The entire people removed the gold rings that were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took it from their hands and bound it up in a cloth, and fashioned it into a molten calf. They said, ‘This is your God, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.’

Aaron saw and built an altar before him. Aaron called out and said, ‘A festival for Hashem tomorrow!’” 

I’ve always wondered why Aaron got off easy in the Golden Calf episode, but now, when I read this story critically, I understand.

The Israelites demanded Aaron fashion a god, and Aaron, realizing he had no way to control a mass of hundreds of thousands of people, attempted to delay the idol-creation as much as he could.

When Aaron realized he couldn’t delay the process any longer, he fashioned the calf. The crowd turned to the calf (the one they had just witnessed being built) and declared it God. Aaron saw their worship and rushed in, telling them, “No, no, we’ll still have a celebration, but it’ll be for the normal God, the one we were talking about before.”

Exodus 32:7-10*

“Hashem spoke to Moses: ‘Go, descend - for your people that you brought up from the land of Egypt has become corrupt. They have strayed quickly from the way that I have commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, prostrated themselves to it and sacrificed to it…

I have seen this people, and behold! It is a stiff-necked people. And now, desist from Me. Let My anger flare up against them and I shall annihilate them; and I shall make you a great nation.’”

The passage could be seen in two different ways, maybe both simultaneously. It could be evidence of God’s immaturity; He was willing to sacrifice Israel because they behaved like normal babies would. He threw Moses a bone, thinking Moses might accept the deal if he saw what was in it for him.

Or it could be seen as a test. God wanted to test Moses’ character. He wanted to see whether Moses could recognize the Israelites’ need for direction, and whether Moses saw their desire for a Golden Calf as the desperate outcry of millions of babies wanting safety.

Exodus 32:11,14*

“Moses pleaded before Hashem, his God, and…Hashem reconsidered regarding the evil that He declared He would do to His people.”

Moses passed the test, and God acquiesced.

Exodus 32:15-18*

“Moses turned and descended from the mountain, with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand…Joshua heard the sound of the people in its shouting, and he said to Moses, ‘The sound of battle is in the camp!’

[Moses] said, ‘Not a sound shouting strength nor a sound shouting weakness; a sound of distress do I hear!’”

Again, they’re babies! It’s not their fault they’re stressed. “Let’s go help them,” Moses said. And notably, he also calmed his deputy regarding the people’s intentions.

Exodus 32:19-23*

“It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dances, that Moses’ anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it in fire. He ground it to a fine powder and sprinkled it over the water. He made the Children of Israel drink. 

Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you brought a grievous sin upon it?’

Aaron said, ‘Let not my master's anger flare up. You know that the people is disposed toward evil. They said to me…’”

The example of leadership shown here crops up constantly in contemporary times. Moses came down from the mountain and saw his people dancing to a random golden baby cow, and instead of getting angry with them, he went immediately to Aaron.

He asked Aaron: how could you do this to them? You failed in your duty to protect them. And Aaron said, in the way of veteran politicians, “I just gave the people what they wanted.”

What kinds of duties do our leaders have toward us? I’d argue the purpose of leaders is for them to help prevent us from doing bad things to ourselves. We imbue them with power in exchange for protecting us.

Does this bargain make us lesser than them? No, but it means they better have the willpower to protect us from our worst impulses. Even more, they better possess the willpower to deny their worst impulses.

Exodus 32:26-27*

“Moses stood at the gateway of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for Hashem, join me!’ - and all the Levites gathered around him. 

He said to them, ‘So said Hashem the God of Israel, “Every man, put his sword on his thigh and pass back and forth from gate to gate in the camp. Let every man kill his brother, every man his fellow, and every man his near one.”’”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did Hashem direct a mass slaughter? According to the text we saw, which is the only authoritative source, not even a little bit.

So, did Moses perhaps take a bit of authoritative liberty in using God’s name for justification of a massacre? Yes. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Exodus 32:31,35*

“Moses returned to Hashem…Hashem struck the people with a plague, because they had made the calf that Aaron had made.”

God, at least, held Israel just as responsible for the calf as Aaron when He referred to both the people and Aaron as having “made” the calf. God struck them with a plague because, following the brutal approach we witness from this book, if God hadn’t done so, the people would’ve thought God no more powerful than the calf.

Exodus 33:2-3*

“[Hashem said] I shall send an angel ahead of you… I shall not ascend among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I annihilate you on the way.’”

Finally, God learned a modicum of self-restraint. He showed He was learning when to recuse Himself.

Exodus 33:12-15*

“Moses said to Hashem, ‘See, You say to me, “Take this people onward,” but You did not inform me whom You will send with me; and You had said, “I shall know you by name, and you have also found favor in My eyes.” And now, if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, make Your way known to me, so that I may comprehend Your “you have found favor in My eyes.” But see that this nation is Your people.’

He said, ‘My Presence will go and provide you rest.’

He said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go along, do not bring us forward from here.’”

We have the guilt trip, the negotiation, and the ultimatum, all in one passage jam-packed with examples of effective persuasion tactics.

The best part came when Moses called God on His bullshit. Moses said, “Oh, now You’re not going to lead us personally because You’re scared You’ll annihilate us? Well, too bad - you chose us. You’re stuck with us.” And God agreed!

Exodus 33:17-19*

“Hashem said to Moses, ‘Even this thing of which you spoke I shall do, for you have found favor in My eyes, and I have known you by name.’

[Moses] said, ‘Show me now Your glory.’

He said, ‘I shall make all My goodness pass before you, and I shall call out with the Name Hashem before you; I shall show favor when I choose to show favor, and I shall show mercy when I choose to show mercy.’”

God’s exchange with Moses reminds me of a child and a parent. Israel likes to think of God’s relationship with the nation as one of a parent and child, but the true parent-child relationship is between God and Moses.

Moses asked for something, and God said, “OK, I’ll grant part of it, but I’m only granting it because I decided to say yes, not because you made me.”

Exodus 34:11-13*

“[Hashem] said, ‘Behold! I seal a covenant: Before your entire people I shall make distinctions such as have never been created in the entire world and among all the nations…Beware of what I command you today: Behold I drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite. 

Be vigilant lest you seal a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you come, lest it be a snare among you. Rather you shall break apart their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down its sacred trees.’” 

So far, God hadn’t commanded the Israelites to slaughter the land’s existing inhabitants. He simply said He’d draw them out, and then it would be necessary for Israel to destroy their places of worship.

Spoiler alert: Israel didn’t do that, at least not entirely. They intermarried and intertwined many of their belief systems. We should wonder if this was God’s intention all along.

What good is a society if it’s never tested? How do humans develop if they’re never exposed to foreign ideas? If they never learn to assimilate other cultures? God placed Israel in the middle of a maelstrom of existing cultures precisely because those cultures would help Israel develop.

We grow because we’re exposed to differences. It’s the only way for us to evolve.

God knew the Israelites would never fully obey the command to remove the indigenous influences from the land. He used this command as a way to plant the seeds for them to overcome factionalism. Yes, He did it by planting the seeds for factionalism, which isn’t ideal, but we can’t overcome something without first experiencing it.

Exodus 34:22-23*

“‘You shall make the Festival of Weeks with the first offering of the wheat harvest; and the Festival of the Harvest shall be at the changing of the year. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord Hashem, the God of Israel.’”

Discovering the truth of our existence starts with being rooted in our physical experience. For humans, our body is the vehicle for enlightenment. How lucky we are to be such embodied beings! Our emotional intelligence, our capacity for love and empathy, and overall zest for life all stem from physicality. And food is one of only two pinnacles of our physical experience. I bet you can figure out the other one.

For that reason, it makes sense for God to tie religious festivals to harvest. Food is one of our most central experiences, and thus, it provides the best way to truly embody our awareness of God’s existence.

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


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