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Parshah Ki Tisa

02/18/2022 09:31:03 AM


Rabbi Hearshen

There are many times where people mix up midrashim and stories from the Talmud with what’s in the actual TaNaKh, or in this case the Torah. When I ask people for their favorite story from the book of Genesis, they tell me the one about Abraham smashing the idols. That story is not in the book of Genesis but is in the midrash in Genesis Rabbah 38:13. Here’s the gist of the story. Abram’s (he would become Abraham later on) father was an idol maker. It was a family business and he was looking for a way to get Abram into it. He decided to make him a salesman of the finest idols in all of the land.  When people came to buy the idols, Abram would make fun of them for their wanting to pray/serve inanimate objects. This meant Abram was a very bad idol salesman. So Terach, that was Abram’s father, decided sales was not his son’s calling so he made him a priest. As a priest, his job would be to serve the idols each day. One day Abram was feeding the idols and he realized the ridiculous nature of the whole idol worship world. It was then he took a stick and smashed all of the idols except for one. When Terach came into the room and saw the mess, he asked his son what had happened. Abram told him the idols were arguing over some food and the biggest one (the one with he stick in it’s hands) smashed all of the others. Terach was very dismayed and said to Abram that it wasn’t possible because they were just statues made of stone. Thus Abram found himself out of the family business.

As the “idol smashers” of the religious world, it’s surprising that it’s not until this week’s parshah, Ki Tisa, that we find the first discussion of an idol in the Torah. There are allusions but it’s not until now that we learn of an actual idol and it’s one we as a people demanded be built and it’s one that our second highest ranked member of our community built for us. Aaron made the golden calf because we demanded he make us a “god.” When Moses came down the mountain and saw the calf, and the Israelites worshipping it, he was so dismayed and angry he smashed the two tablets of the Ten Commandments God had given us.

These two episodes are both tied to idolatry and both have smashing in them. The reality is they are both about the same thing: loyalty to God. Abram couldn’t stand that people could be misled to worship something made by human hands. He couldn’t tolerate the absurdity of humans thinking those statues were Divine. It was for this reason he smashed them and showed God that he, Abram, was the sole person in the world ready to introduce the world to the one true God. Abram would go on to become Abraham, and at the same time, become the founder of monotheism in the world. Moses spent 40 days and nights on top of Mt Sinai, and when he came down, he saw his people betraying God. He saw the people rebelling and showing love for an inanimate object that had no power. He smashed the tablets out of anger, out of frustration, and out of a need to punish the wrongdoers.

At the same time, he smashed them because we needed to learn. We needed to learn that idolatry betrays human life and harms our world. We needed to learn the importance of faith and patience. We needed to learn a lot. We had not grown enough since the days of Abram and now it was all coming to a head. It’s also noteworthy that Moses smashed the actual golden calf and ground it up.

Today, in our world, we don’t consider ourselves to be practitioners of idolatry. We see idolatry as being evil and ancient. But at the same time, we aren’t immune to the threats and risks posed by idolatry. We no longer idolize statues and false gods but we do idolize other things. We idolize entertainment. We idolize money. We idolize technology. We idolize these things because all too often we place them, and the pursuit of them, ahead of things that really matter. We idolize false gods and it’s important that we smash those idols.

We need to smash the idols of today in the same way Abram smashed the idols in his father’s store. We need to smash the idols in the same way Moses smashed the tablets and the golden calf. And the way to do this is to restore the Ten Commandments and the Torah to its rightful place in our hearts and in our lives: right at the center. Each time we choose to “do Jewish” we smash idols.

Sun, June 26 2022 27 Sivan 5782