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Exodus 32 / Numbers  19 - Susan Zonneveld

THE GOLDEN CALF – as we just heard in the first Torah reading, Moses was furious with the people of Israel for worshiping and subsequently believing in an idol.  In this case, a golden calf. As we all know, in our faith we don't "do" idols - there is only one God, although the children of Israel didn't yet know that.

I have however tried to look at the Israelites dilemma through their eyes. Moses had been gone a long time. Their lives had carried on in the usual way. Getting up in the morning - getting through the day. I am sure that life was pretty tough for many. No strong leadership, perhaps a lack of guidance. Uncertainty as to what tomorrow will bring. Sound familiar?

Isn't it therefore normal to try and find something to believe in? Maybe something that can be actually felt and touched? Something physical?

For me, it is very easy to fall into the trap of finding something physical to believe in. Something that can "make me feel better". Maybe something that makes life easier. In today's world, what could that be? A car, a holiday, jewellery, new clothes, even a mobile phone - to name a few. All items that can be purchased with money - my golden calf maybe?

Don't get me wrong, material wealth isn't such a bad thing and it's definitely not forbidden. We certainly need some material things to maintain what we have come to know as a decent lifestyle. But have all these purchased possessions become my God? Not an easy question to honestly answer sometimes.

Of course we need 'things' but can they truly give us spiritual happiness, peace of mind, completeness? I can't answer for all people but I inherently know that I need something more. But actually bringing myself back isn't always easy. What is the something more?

Our second Torah reading was very much an instruction of ritual. Slaughtering a cow, sprinkling blood, burning etc etc. A list of things to do to cleanse oneself. With Pesach approaching, we go through another tranche of ritual cleansing and purifying, spending hours cleaning, changing cutlery/crockery. Buying the right food. Making the right cake and biscuits. I definitely get incredibly bogged down in the 'doing' and 'making' but once again, I need to remind myself that the 'doing' and 'making' can only take me so far. During the seder in our home, we take great care to ensure that the haggadah is read carefully by everyone around the table. Remembering the meaning of Pesach - the Exodus from Egypt. We sometimes stop for a 'Jewish debate' around something we have read. 'What' we are doing and 'why' we are doing it? By the end of it, we are all hungry for the food of course but we certainly have had to think about what we are doing.

In my role as Head of Ritual for the synagogue, I am involved in the running and organising of services, festival celebrations, trying to find new ideas to implement and many other logistical things - even food sometimes! A lot of the time, the logistics and organising overtakes the 'ritual' bit. Yet, it's often the 'ritual part' that 'brings me back' to the thinking and believing place. The simple act of making time to come to shul, reading the prayers, trying to understand the meaning. Just picking up my siddur or another book at home can do the trick.

Life today is so busy and can be filled with stress and pressure. There is often little spare time and getting off the 'hampster wheel' for just a moment can be tough. Many of us are not 'forced' or 'bound' to religion by guilt and family pressure. We make our own choices and decisions. On the whole, a good thing.

But for me, whether it's the Golden Calf syndrome or my obsession with organising things loosely related to 'ritual' - I feel it is vital to find the time and mental space to appreciate the intrinsic value that our faith and religion brings to life and being.


Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781