Parashat Ki Tisa

Friday, February 22, 2019 /17 Adar, 5779
Parashat Ki Tisa Exodus 30:11-34:35

Dear Friends,

In the age of Me Too, we should read a key verse in this week’s Torah portion a bit carefully, and a bit differently.

The background – Moses has gone up the mountain to converse with God, and the Israelites, down below, are restless. They fear that Moses has abandoned them, and they prevail upon Aaron to make them a new god, to lead them in the desert, which will soon result in the Golden Calf. So, to fabricate the Calf, Aaron needs materiel. Thus, here’s the verse, “Aaron said to them (the Israelite men), take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” (Exodus 32:2)

To this verse, Ellen Frankel, in her landmark book, The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah, asks, “Why does Aaron command the men to bring their wives jewelry? Why not the men’s as well?”

Frankel replied that Aaron demanded the women’s jewelry because he expected them to resist! He expected them to resist out of vanity, but the commentary suggests that they resisted out of piety. Aaron needed greater religious strength for himself to resist the demand that he make a new god, but he did not possess that level of piety, and he thus turned to the women to give him a fallback position.

It is a powerful message. Men, may, indeed be lacking in spiritual power, which women have nurtured over the millennia, and which this episode illustrates. A careful reading of Torah demonstrates mostly righteous Jewish women, and rarely impious ones (overlooking Eve…). Note the midwives who stood up to Pharaoh, Tamar who uncovered Judah’s infidelity, Sarah who longed for a son (but who admittedly treated Hagar cruelly), and Miriam, who except for her moment of slander, led our people. In fact, another midrash argues that every Israelite woman who left Egypt – except Miriam – lived to enter the Promised Land, even Moses’ mother Yocheved out-lived her son, all on account of their spiritual prowess.

Thus, perhaps it is right that we see the women resisting to participate in idolatry. Women resisting seems to be a common, ancient and modern, theme!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Doug Kohn