Ki Tissa

"They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf" Exodus 32:8


There is a certain group of Hindus who shave their heads in acknowledgement of thanks to one of their deities. The temple collects the hair and sells it to wig manufacturers. Several years ago, leading rabbis of the generation asked whether Jewish women's sheitels (wigs) made from such hair were prohibited. The important halachic issue was whether the hair-shaving procedure in the temple constituted an act of idolatry, or whether the locks were simply donated for the use of the idol.

In this week's sidrah, the Jews find themselves dancing, not so much around a golden wig, but a golden calf. Rabbi Eliezer Shach (died 2001) writes that although it is human nature to want to shrug off the yoke of authority, we nevertheless observe an opposing psychological phenomenon; an example of the wondrous way in which the Creator has implanted contradictory impulses in mankind.

Sometimes, a person will voluntarily shoulder an external authority, even without being instructed to. His acceptance of this other deity is rather more cosy, as it is on his own terms. Yet, he needs to look up to something else in that vacuum.

Believing in a single God who has no corporeal form and cannot be apprehended by any physical means can be tough. Many have chosen instead to worship one of God's creations. Today this can take the form of expensive cars, footballers and celebrity actors. The Torah's message for our generation is that we have the power to communicate and connect with God directly. We don't go via any "son", and no matter how puny we may be, a Jew can open up his heart and cry to Hashem who hears our prayer. Even if you do happen to be praying for a new sheitel.

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