Contradiction In Ki Tisa: Stiff-Necked Appeasers
We were supposed to be dead. If the Holocaust did not finish us off, the Arabs should have done us in.
But we won war after war, each of which was supposed to be the one that rid the Middle East of its Jews.
We rescued hostages from Entebbe against all odds. We swooped down and gathered up Yemenite Jews and later Ethiopian Jews, thousands at a time, and carried them home to Israel. We became a global research and development center for technology, medicine and agriculture.
But we were supposed to be dead.
We fight among ourselves endlessly. Great numbers of us assimilate and lose touch; only somehow, down through the generations, many find their way back.
We are stubborn and unruly.
In 2008, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote an interpretation of one aspect of the weekly portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35): In spite of the incident with the golden calf, Moses begged God not to abandon the Israelites. Then,
the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you.
Referring to Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum’s understanding, Rabbi Sacks writes:
They are indeed an obstinate people. . . . But just as now they are stiff-necked in their disobedience, so one day they will be equally stiff-necked in their loyalty. Nations will call on them to assimilate, but they will refuse. Mightier religions will urge them to convert, but they will resist. They will suffer humiliation, persecution, even torture and death because of the name they bear and the faith they profess, but they will stay true to the covenant their ancestors made with You. They will go to their deaths saying Ani maamin, “I believe”. This is a people awesome in its obstinacy – and though now it is their failing, there will be times far into the future when it will be their noblest strength.
This is something onto which I hold. It makes me proud. It corresponds to the fact that throughout history we Jews have enough traditional and religious members of the tribe without whom we would probably have gone extinct just like many other civilizations that came and went.
Then, after having threatened to destroy us, God adds:
Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’ ” So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.
Is it possible that THIS experience at Sinai set us up for what has become a major feature of a large part of our Jewish population: appeasement? If so, there are those among us who have somehow let other people take the place of God in judging us. I wonder if other-peoples’-regard-for-us might not just be another kind of golden calf that we construct after we grow somewhat complacent some time after yet another deliverance from danger.
I thank God that there are enough Jews who stubbornly lead Torah-observant lives for they are the ones who keep our people alive. And they are the ones least likely to succumb to the trap of feeling the need to appease other people.