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The story of the Golden Calf

Rabbi Sidney Helbraun

February 18, 2022

Dear Friends,

One of America’s foundational principles, the separation of Church and State, makes an appearance in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, as two Israelite leaders take on very different roles in the community: Aaron represents the ideas of religion (Church), while Moses represents the idea of government (the State).

The crucial scene in this portion is the episode of the Golden Calf. As it begins the Israelites are fearful and anxious, believing that Moses has left them stranded in the wilderness. They turn to Aaron for comfort and reassurance. Aaron hears their concerns and provides them with a sense of comfort and security in a difficult time. Although the method he used left a great deal to be desired, he nonetheless filled a vital need.

In this same incident Moses represents the role of the “State”. Seeing people breaking the “law,” he acts in the manner of the government, ensuring that when the law is broken, the consequences that follow are applied equally to all.

The story of the Golden Calf showcases the damage that can occur when Religion and State are combined together, and the toll they can cause within a society. It demonstrates the need for Aaron to be present for the Israelites’ religious and spiritual needs, and Moses to champion the law. A healthy society requires both the love and compassion of religion, as well as the strength and power of law. They are two different forces that work well when they exist side by side, but pervert one another when they are forced together.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sid

Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784