On the Other Hand: Ten Minutes of Torah - Ki Tisa: How Do You Center Your Life?

In this weekly podcast, we will offer insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2,000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. What is at the center of your life and how do you keep your focus on what matters most? Parashat Ki Tisa offers insights into this timeless question, Rabbi Rick Jacobs helps us find those answers.

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[URJ Intro:] Welcome to episode five of “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah,” a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. Each week, we come to you with a little bit of insight into the weekly Torah portion, condensing 2000 years of Jewish wisdom into just 10 minutes of modern-day commentary. We think there are plenty of ways to interpret Torah, though, and we want to hear what you think. You can weigh in on this week's Torah portion and what you hear today by talking to us on Twitter. Our handle is @URJ. And by liking us at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism, and you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Each week we hear from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. In this episode, he delves deeper into Parashat Ki Tisa from the Book of Exodus.

[Rabbi Rick:] The section of the Torah that we focus on this week is entitled Ki Tisa. It begins with a census of the people, trying to figure out who counts. It's a dramatic moment. Moses is still on top of the mountain in communion, in a moment of receptivity, literally taking in the deepest wisdom, the most divine, overwhelming clarity about the way the world ought to be.

But while he's up on that mountain, the people that have been waiting for him grow restless. We have the story of Moses's brother Aaron not having very much backbone. And they say, we don't know where Moses is, and we need something tangible. We've got to focus our lives. We can't have this ethereal religion, a god we can't see, a leader we can't even know where he is.

So, they, as you know, construct an idol out of gold, a golden calf. And Moses is up in communion, and there's this amazing Talmudic text because Moses just basking in this incredible religious ecstasy. But God says, lech r’ed, in the Tractate B'rachot of the Talmud. God says, lech r’ed! Get off this mountain, Moses. You're not up here out of some privilege. God says, the only reason I chose you was because of them. So, get off your high place, and go be with those people, and bring them back to where they should be.

So, Moses realizes it's not about him. And sometimes in our lives, it's hard to remember it's not about us individually. It's about the world and the circles of relationship that we have. So, Moses goes down, and he sees with his own eyes what is going on, and he is furious. He's just consumed with anger, and the people are stunned.

So, what is it-- what is it that they built? Is it because it's gold, because it's a calf? Well, we all construct idols in our lives. An idol-- it's not just a statue because otherwise it'd just be for artists, right? The commandment to not make idols is not only for people who spend their days in sculpture studios. It's about any one of us who create something to represent the whole, that myth.

Sometimes that idol is our own sense of who we are. Sometimes the idol is money. Sometimes it's power. Sometimes it's something that just gets us off track. So, Moses has to really be much clearer about what it is that matters so much to him and to the people. And he also has to confront his brother Aaron, who is a different being than Moses. Moses got this-- the opera that Schoenberg wrote, Moses and Aaron, it's an amazing opera, and Moses is this stern, very austere prophetic intellectual, while Aaron is this lyric tenor. He's the artist. He's the one who sings, and they don't have a common view of the world.

And so, Moses and Aaron are also trying to repair their relationship because Moses left Aaron in charge, and Aaron went off on a tangent and went just where he shouldn't have gone. But Aaron thinks that Moses doesn't understand the people, doesn't understand their need for a grounding, a focus for their spirituality.

All of us-- we've got our own relationships. We've got our own families. We've got our own idols. We're trying to find what is it that's really at the center, what's at the heart of our lives. And how do we keep our focus there? How do we keep from building and worshipping and being distracted by all of those things, all those things that can get in the way?

Moses went down from his high place, and he grew in that process. I wonder how each one of us can in our own life's journey with this incredible web of connectedness and all these complicated relationships, how we can be clear about what matters most and not go off in ways that we know will not serve who we are and what we care about most.

[URJ Outro:] Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah.” If you liked what you heard today, and we hope you did, you can find new episodes each week at ReformJudaism.org and on iTunes, where we would love for you to rate and review us. Between podcasts you can visit us to learn more, not just about Torah, but about all aspects of Reform Judaism, including rituals, culture, holidays, and more. “On the Other Hand: 10 Minutes of Torah” is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. Visit www.urj.org to learn more.

L'hitraot! We'll see you next week.