D’var Torah for March 13, 2020

This week we will be reading from parashat Ki Tisa. It begins with God commanding Moses to take a census of the Israelite followed by instructions to empower Bezalel, Uri and Oholiav to oversee the construction of the Tabernacle. However, all of this is pretense to the story of the Egel Zahav, the Golden calf.
As we learn from Exodus 32:1-2, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered ‘against’ Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him.”
Previously we learned that Moses had ascended Mt. Sinai and remained up there for forty days and forty nights in seclusion from his brother and the rest of the Israelite leadership. Needless to say, in reading this text, we get the sense that the Israelites are growing increasingly anxious about Moses’ absence. In addition, up until Sinai, their only experience of gods in Egypt were those of idols, so it makes sense that given their anxiety, they would want to return to something familiar to seek comfort and solace.
Anxiety is not a uniquely Jewish experience, yet given our experience as Jews, it is not unusual for us to be anxious as individuals and as a people. Though the truth is, we do not have a higher rate of anxiety than any other peoples in the general population.[1]
That being said, in this time where there is a great deal of worry about the Coronavirus, it is hard not to feel a generalized, if not specific level anxiety. The question is, what do we do with that feeling? Our ancestors used it to justify the creation of a golden idol to be celebrated and worshipped. They did this because they believed Moses had abandoned them, and without Moses what hope did they have to encountering God?
For us, having just completed the celebration of Purim, a holiday built around anxiety, we are presented with an opportunity. Like Esther, we can choose not to give into our worries and fears, but instead act in positive ways. Here at RTR, we are working with local and state officials as well as our professional organizations to best continue to prepare and institute policies and procedures designed to keep us all as safe as possible. We will be working as well to keep you informed through our various means of communications as to our plans as realities change in our community. We also continue to offer streaming services (www.rtrny.org/live), so that you can connect with us virtually if you are not able to join us in person.
One of the main lessons of the Golden Calf is that panic is no way to respond to anxiety and fear. We are striving to be judicious and deliberate to do our best to keep you safe and keep our congregational family safe during this time of uncertainty.
I would like to offer up the following prayer[2]. It is not intended to solve but instead to help provide both comfort and guidance:
Eternal God, You abide though all things change. We are anxious and fearful, and we turn our hearts to You, looking to You and leaning on Your strength.
It is written (Psalm 84:5): Blessed is the one whose strength is in You.
Bless us now with faith and courage. Help us to feel that You are with us, steadying and sustaining us with the assurance that we are loved.
Be with us and bring us hope, that in the days to come, our aspirations may be fulfilled for our good and the good of those we love who depend on us.
Banish our fears with the sense that you are always present, to uphold and sustain us, as it is written (Isaiah 41:10) Have no fear, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the power of My righteousness. Amen.
May we all be safe, healthy and happy during this challenging time. And may our tradition help to guide us as we work within the greater community to keep all safe healthy.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff