Ki Tisa as a Song of Longing (Mar 16, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
March 16, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

Parashat Ki Tisa is a Song of both longing and danger. First, the longing. Previous to our parsha, Moses has gone up to the top of Mount Sinai, entering the cloud of God’s presence, to remain with God for 40 days (Ex 24:18). While Moses is up on Mount Sinai encountering the Divine, the children of Israel wait expectantly at the foot of Mount Sinai for Moses to return with God’s prescription for a holy life.

Now the period of time is coming to an end and the people are restless, “for this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” (Ex 32.1 Everett Fox translation). They go to Aaron, brother of Moses, and say to him, “Make us a god who will go before us!” (Ex 32.1 Everett Fox translation). There follows the well-known story of the creation of the golden calf from the gold rings of the people, and of the people eating, drinking, and dancing wildly around their creation.

I would like to read the creation of the golden calf as the story of people who are yearning for God’s presence, and who do the best they can in their circumstances to fill that longing. But there is a problem with this reading, and that is where the danger comes it. Although Moses successfully pleads with God not to destroy the people entirely (Ex. 32:31-34), nevertheless God sends a plague upon the people (Ex. 32:35). Moses himself orders the Levites to assassinate 3,000 of the Israelites. (Ex. 32:26-28). If the people were expressing longing for God, how do we understand a world in which they can be punished for doing so?

We can illuminate the Exodus text by following the ancient rabbinic tradition of reading Torah intertextually with Song of Songs. But fair warning, the Song illuminates the danger as well as the longing.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.