Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 7: Ki Sisa

ki sisa(Exodus 30:11 – 34:35)

It’s easy to criticize, to tell someone  “you’re no good”, “you smell like a drain”, “if your column doesn’t sort itself out in the next two weeks, I’m axing it, end-of-story”. But people who say such things, especially the last thing, should look at this week’s parsha, which deals with the Golden Calf.

Yes, I have occasionally lost focus in earlier columns, and yes, sometimes I have moved away from more traditional interpretations in favour of vicious name-calling and savage personal attacks, but remember what the sages tell us about the Golden Calf – that the Israelites only erred because they thought Moses had been away on Mount Sinai too long. If a leader goes, his people  become confused and that’s something that could easily happen to a newspaper if it’s editor were to disappear for, say, 40 days, which would be spent not up a mountain but blindfolded, with masking tape over his mouth, tied to a chair in an abandoned warehouse somewhere in the East End of London.

I’m not threatening, it’s just that I know people who’ve been inside. And I don’t mean inside a sukkah. I mean prison. And even if it was just two weeks for tax evasion it still counts, capiche?

But what of the parsha? Maimonides points out that building the Golden Calf doesn’t make the Israelites intrinsically evil. Evil is killing an innocent child or genocide or shifting money out of a joint bank account so your husband can’t get to it but your lover who’s a builder who’s a woman can use it for expensive private education for her children where the teachers will have time to address their special needs problems of being called Space and Apache Mebulewayo-Lowenberg and having a pink ribbon shape dyed into their shaved hairdos to show that they’re “breast cancer-aware” (my examples, not Maimonides’s).

Most of us build our Golden Calfs or Calves almost without realising. Who amongst us hasn’t had a momentary lapse in vigilance and suddenly found that they’ve handcuffed themselves to some railings opposite a voluptuous young blind woman’s flat with whom they have a strong platonic bond as a silent protest against the fact that she’s gone back to not answering their calls again? Not that, in retrospect, a silent protest was that good an idea bearing in mind that she is blind and it’s only by hearing something that she’d know you were protesting at all. That’s if she is in fact blind, because she certainly seemed to have no problems looking into the eyes of that ridiculously good-looking young man (I’m not gay) who was with her when she finally pulled up outside her home at 2 o’clock in the morning. And by the way, young lady, I don’t believe that blind people can now drive cars thanks to some newfangled “sonic guidance navigational system like bats have” called Batnav.

And whilst we’re at it, the parsha also teaches us that the important thing when you return from being away and are confronted by a Golden Calf/rainsodden middle-aged Rabbi handcuffed to some railings opposite your flat is to show forgiveness. Moses pleaded with G-d to show mercy to the Children of Israel. To my knowledge there is no record in the Torah of him snatching the key to a set of handcuffs and flinging it into a nearby drain like that rude and probably drug-crazed young man decided to do.

Still, the man of faith is full of blessings and a hastily scribbled note on the back of an old Board of Deputies newsletter saying “If You Want to Make Poverty History Hoot Your Horn” was enough to convince the police that this man of faith was just a harmless nutter (I’m not a nutter). As for the fire brigade, who seemed singularly unimpressed by my Jewish Chronicle column and forthcoming “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4, why they couldn’t simply remove my handcuffs I’ll never know.  There’s nothing harder than leading a shacharis service when physically encumbered, as anyone who’s tried to hoist a Torah scroll aloft when attached to a 6 foot by 4 foot section of iron railing will surely agree.

This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle.

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