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Parashat Ki Tissa 5783

March 7, 2023

Click HERE   for an audio recording of this D’var Torah

The Golden Calf: Not a Tantrum, but a Meltdown
A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tissa and Shabbat Parah
By Rabbi Katy Allen (’05)

Perhaps the golden calf was inevitable,
and perhaps
even necessary.
Egel ha’masekhah, the molten calf (Ex. 32:4),
the meltdown–
the internal or external loss of control
stemming from demands
or overwhelming emotions.
Not a tantrum.

Not a tantrum
but the breaking down
that leads to breaking open.

G!d demanded so much,
and all at once
and in no uncertain terms.
Moses seemingly disappeared
just when everyone’s lives
were being overwhelmingly disrupted
changed irrevocably.

Has it ever happened to you?

Hamasekhah hanesukhah
the veil that is spread over all the nations (Is. 25:7)
the veil of mourning that covers us all (BDB)
G!d will remove it,
and will “wipe away the tears” (Is. 25:8)
from all our faces.

But first, before the sadness can be expunged,
before the tears are wiped away,
first must come the meltdown, the breaking open.

G!d is angry,
as is Moses,
both–together with so many who came after them–
understanding what happened
to be a tantrum
rather than a meltdown
and a breaking open,
seeing only a stiffnecked people
not a sign of distress,
seeing only danger,
and so they punish the out-of-control Israelites,
G!d responding
by sending a plague.

It was all too much–
the calf,
the burnt offerings,
the dancing–
too much for G!d to handle,
it was too close,
and the Divine distanced Itself,
refusing to plant Itself
in the midst of the people

And the people mourned.
They grieved
with all their hearts.

And yet,
perhaps G!d and Moses do understand,
for only after
this molten, melted calf
and its aftereffects,
only then does G!d speak with Moses
only after all of this uproar
does Moses find the courage
and the gumption
to confront G!d:
“You have not made known to me
who will go with me.” (Ex. 33:12)

There is an opening here
between G!d and Moses,
an inexplicable,
G!d agrees to lead the way,
Moses asks
to behold the Divine Presence
and G!d allows him to see the Divine self
from behind.

The meltdown,
the mourning–
the molten calf,
the mourning veil–
out of these come
a unique and indescribable
moment of connection
and G!d’s promise to lead the way.


In our own lives
we experience both personal
and collective
moments of meltdown,
of internal or external loss of control.
These moments–
whether short or long–
can be frightening and despairing
to both participant
and observer,
but they are best understood–
once we have mourned the consequences
and had our tears wiped away–
as sacred moments of opening,
opening to new possibilities,
to new horizons,
to new depths of relationship
with ourselves,
with each other,
and with G!d.
Rabbi Katy Allen (’05) is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She is the author of A Tree of Life: A Story in Word, Image, and Text and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma’yan Tikvah.