Sunday, March 22, 2009

803. Golden Calf

Yesterday morning at services the rabbi raised an interesting question: why is the Golden Calf debacle in the Torah? It makes us look like a whiny, disobedient, untrustworthy nation, not at all flattering. The Torah includes many stories of our mistakes, of course, so we can learn from them--but an awful lot of space is devoted to this one. It could have been shorter, gentler.

But to suppress part of this ugliness would have lessened the likelihood of tikkun, repair, suggested the rabbi. We need to confront the most honest versions of our narratives in order to truly understand and integrate them into our lives. We spend far too much time and energy hiding the parts of our stories we don't like, for example: 'Shooting and crying,' from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, an account by soldiers of IDF abuse of civillians. Some commanders were kind and ethical; those stories were readily shared in the media. Others, much less flattering, were not. Much of what happened during the Gaza war was, like life in general, neither completely good nor completely evil.

To become good, we first need to acknowledge that we have the capacity to be the opposite. As the rabbi spoke, I thought not of Israel but of the narrative of my own family and the parts I learned, as a child, never to share. No explicit reasons were given; we just didn't talk about such things. But when I finally did, in recent months, both to friends privately and at the shiva minyan, I felt whole again--able to fully embrace my story and family, even though most of them are now gone. They are still part of me, and always will be.

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