This week we reach one of the most famous of our Torah passages. “Ki Tissa” stars the incident of the Golden Calf. So much has been written and discussed about this story. So much that I would like to look at a small passage from Exodus 32:15. This is just as Moses is taking the tablets back down the mountain. It is a verse or two before the Golden Calf emerges. Moses starts back to his people;
Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, tablets inscribed on both their surfaces, they were inscribed on the one side and the other.
I just returned from a wonderful conference that dealt with issues of medicine, mortality and morality. Some of the finest scholars in the field of Jewish bio-ethics, from every denomination, presented papers on issues relevant to contemporary issues in this field. One of the overriding themes of all the scholarly presentations was the importance of context, of seeing things on a case by case basis; even at times, allowing Jewish law to bend to fit the humaneness of a situation. What does this have to do with our verse and us? Well, I was thinking on this and the fact that one of the “gifts” of years is the understanding that few things in life are a simple matter of black or white. Often, when we are younger, we see things in a fixed manner. Life experience teaches us that we best first understand the context of a situation before we make a judgement, that each life, and thus each life situation, reflects a particular universe of experience and to make a blanket judgement on everything may do a disservice to all.
This lesson reflects how we read Torah. There is no one way to read or understand the text. How we read it often is reflective of where we are in our life, which is why,from one year to another, we can read the same text and have the message be different. Our life experience teaches to look at things, channeling that Joni Mitchel song, “from both sides now” As we get older, we understand that rarely are things black or white, but that one of the great inventions is “grey”. The Tablets are written on two tablets, perhaps letting us know that there may be many ways to approach the text, Jewish tradition and decisions in life.
Rabbi Richard F. Address D.Min, is the Founder and Director of Jewish Sacred Aging. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, New Jersey while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey from 2011 to 2014.