"Courage to Change" (with Bonita
E Taylor) in PlainViews [Chaplaincy
E-Magazine] 8.5, 4/6/2011
Accomplishments; Marking Those Miracles" (with
Bonita E Taylor) in The Orchard, UJC Communities,
Spring 2011, 16
“Parashat Tzav – An Eternal Flame” (with
Josh Zlochower) in Mekor Chaim, UJC
Communities, March 13, 2011
“Parashat Chukat – Great Changes are Taking Place”
in “Mekor Chaim,” UJC Communities, June 19, 2010
"Leadership Sets the Mood,
Beginning with Us," in Vision [National
Association of Catholic Chaplains journal],
March/April, 2010, 20.2, 7, 10.
"Sefira: A Sacred Journey," in
"The Orchard," UJC Communities, Spring, 2010, 11.
"Parashat Ki Tisa — Who’s
in Charge Here?", in "Mekor Chaim," UJC
Communities, February 28, 2010.
Parashat Ki Tisa
Who's In Charge
Rabbi David J.
The highlights of
this Torah section are the statements about
Shabbat observance, the apostasy of the Golden
Calf, then Moses’ re-ascending Mt Sinai with
the second set of the stone tablets, along
with the reinstatement of the contract between
God and Israel.
Both literally and
figuratively, this is a dizzying narrative.
The action begins with Moses on Mt Sinai. He
receives various instructions including the
famous covenantal lines of the veshomru, “The
Israelite people shall keep the sabbath . . .
throughout the ages as a covenant for all
time.” The very next line explains that “Upon
finishing speaking with him on Mount Sinai,
[God] gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact,
stone tablets inscribed with the finger of
God” (Exod 31:16-18).
Meanwhile at the
base of the mountain, the people are restless
and worried at Moses’ inexplicable extended
absence; they coerce Aaron into building the
Golden Calf (Exod 32:1-6).
Back on Mt Sinai God
tells Moses to return to the camp. “Hurry
down, for your people . . . have acted basely
. . . this is a stiffnecked people” (vss.7,9).
Learning that God intends to destroy the
Israelites, Moses replies, “Let not Your anger
. . . blaze forth against Your people . . .
renounce the plan to punish Your people”
Moses heads down the
mountain and confronts Aaron. “What did this
people do to you that you have brought such
great sin upon them?” (vs. 21). Aaron, trying
to sidestep responsibility says to Moses, “You
know that this people is bent on evil . . .”
(vs. 22). Shortly later Moses chastises the
people “You have been guilty . . .” (vs. 30).
By chapter 33, Moses implores God to continue
to lead the people, and he asks to see God’s
Chapter 34 finds
Moses back on the mountain, the two tablets of
stone in his hands, the famous meeting with
God, often described as the recital of the
Thirteen Attributes (vss. 6-7), and then the
restoration of the covenant.
changing focus of the narrative, moving from
Mt Sinai to the Israelite camp, back to Mt
Sinai, back to the camp, and finally back to
Mt Sinai, obscures an important question. Who
was in charge? Who was answerable for the
Israelites’ apostasy? Undeniably, the people
themselves were the most culpable, followed by
Aaron who was unable to prevent this action.
Yet, Moses and God likewise share
accountability for the debacle. Neither Moses
nor God had thought this through carefully
enough. Neither figure took into consideration
the effects on the people when Moses would be
away, incommunicado, for close to six weeks.
Threaded through this narrative is the all too
common reaction of denying responsibility for
ill planning. God says to Moses, “Hurry down,
for your people . . . have acted basely.”
Moses is quick to reply, “Let not Your anger .
. . blaze forth against Your people.” Moses
questions Aaron’s actions, and Aaron responds
with a statement that Moses knows what kind of
people these are. No one wants to claim
lessons flow out of this narrative. Oftentimes
many are tasked with the planning of a given
venture. If/when, there are failures,
frequently there is no one person, or one
group of people who are fully responsible.
Though not all are equally guilty, culpability
needs to be shared. In the Exodus incident,
none of the figures comes forward to say,
“Yes, I take responsibility for my failures to
think this through carefully enough. I did not
plan this as well as I could have done.”
Yet, one figure
comes close to admitting serious
responsibility for allowing the matter to get
out of hand. God not only allows Moses to
challenge divine decisions, God never seems
upset with him for daring to question those
pronouncements. Further God agrees to
reconnect with Moses and the people. “I will
also do this thing that you have asked . . . I
will make all My goodness pass before you”
(Exod 33:17, 19).
trying to think of the many possible scenarios
that might go wrong, serves us well. Then,
if/when there are mistakes made, there is
great virtue in admitting culpability, even if
that is not shared evenly. A further benefit
can be that after apportioning guilt, we can
reconcile, reunite, and resolve to do better
in the future. We can reestablish our mutual
relationships and work together in common
David J. Zucker, PhD, a member of UJC Rabbinic
Cabinet, is Rabbi/Chaplain and Director of
Spirituality at Shalom Park, a senior
continuum of care center, Aurora, CO. He is a
Board Certified Chaplain by the Association of
Professional Chaplains (APC) and the National
Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC).
Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet
Chair: Rabbi Steven E. Foster
Vice Chair: Rabbi Amy Small
Vice Chair: Rabbi Stuart G. Weinblatt
Vice Chair: Rabbi Larry Kotok
President: Rabbi Jonathan Schnitzer
Honorary Chair: Rabbi Matthew H. Simon
Consultant, Rabbinic Cabinet: Rabbi Gerald
opinions expressed in Mekor Chaim articles are
solely of the author and do not reflect any
official position of Jewish Federations of
North America or the Rabbinic Cabinet.
"Why Jonah?" (with Bonita E
Taylor), in "The Orchard," UJC Communities, Fall,
"Looking Backward, Looking
Forward" — Torah Reflections on Parashat
Ki Tavo, Electronic Chaplaincy/ Torah
Reflections, September 25, 2009, www.jewishhealingcenter.org.
"Shamor V’Zakhor: The Blessings
of Both/And" (with Bonita E Taylor), in "The
Orchard," UJC Communities, Spring, 2009, 16.
"It's the Journey" (with Bonita E
Taylor), in "The Orchard," UJC Communities, Fall,
"Parashat Ekev - Get a Partner",
in "Mekor Chaim," UJC Communities, August 18,
"Bad Death - Responses" (with
Bonita E Taylor), in PlainViews [Chaplaincy
E-Magazine] 5.9, 06/04/08.
"Parashat Behukkotai", in "Mekor
Chaim," UJC Communities, May 18, 2008.
"Arise, Shine, For Your Light Has
Come" (with Bonita E Taylor), in "The Orchard,"
UJC Communities, Spring, 2008, 34.
"Compassion Fatigue and Burnout
among Rabbis Working as Chaplains" with Bonita E
Taylor, Andrew J. Weaver, Kevin J. Flannery in
Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling,
Spring-Summer, 2006, 60.1-2, 35-42
Staff" — Torah Reflections on Parashat
Tetzaveh, Electronic Chaplaincy/ Torah
Reflections, March 11, 2006, www.jewishhealingcenter.org
". . . And Be
There" — Torah Reflections on Parashat
Mishpatim, Electronic Chaplaincy/ Torah
Reflections, February 25, 2006, www.jewishhealingcenter.org
"Our Unique Roles as
Chaplains/Pastoral Care Givers", PlainViews
[Chaplaincy E-Magazine] 2.24, 1/8/06
Names" — Torah Reflections on Parashat
Shemot, Electronic Chaplaincy/ Torah
Reflections, January 21, 2006, www.jewishhealingcenter.org
"Parashat Vayehi" in
"Mekor Chaim," UJC Communities, January 9, 2006
"A Betrayal of Their Sacred
Trust: Rabbis, Cantors, and Chaplains Who Violate
Sexual Boundaries" in Journal of Religion and
Abuse, 2005, 7.2, 77-89