This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, offers us a cautionary tale-the stunning spectacle of our ancestors’ creation of, and encounters with, the mythical Golden Calf.
Our ancestors were overwhelmed with fear at their leader, Moses’, delayed absence atop Mt. Sinai. They grew impatient, demanding attention and immediate gratification. They cried, “We want God now!” and, "We need physical proof, not empty promises." 'Seeing is believing' was their theology. The masses revolted and Aaron capitulated.
In December 2016, Israeli artist, Itay Zalait, created a twelve-foot golden statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, in an act of “guerilla” art expression, erected it in the middle of the night in Yitzhak Rabin Square, at the very place Rabin had been assassinated. As you’d expect, its appearance created a tumultuous response and the statue was torn down, but not before some argued that it would be inappropriate to knock it down merely because it was a statue of the prime minister.
Itay’s stated purpose was to challenge the attack being perpetrated on the fundamental freedom of expression of artists and the media. Today, in response to the current power grab and attempted diminishment of the Israeli Supreme Court, (the only check on Israel’s elected leaders), many Jewish leaders, across all denominations, are speaking out and calling for action against these proposed new laws and in support of Israel’s democracy.
Right now, the people of Israel and all Jews throughout the world stand witness. Many of us wonder, with profoundly worried hearts, at the unprecedented contemporary circumstance facing us. Will Israel remain a democracy or not? That is the question, make no mistake. And, will we reject those who seek to make themselves into gods who should be worshiped?
May we have the courage to join our voices in unity. If not, like our ancestors, we may be forced to swallow the toxicity of authoritarianism.