Rabbi Goldschmidt


Parshat: Ki Tisa

Few moments are as immortalized in our Torah than the moment that the Israelites fell from Divine inspiration, freedom from Egypt, Courage against Amalek, the building of our Holy Mishkan and committed the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf.

To this day, on Yom Kippur our holiest festival we have an almost universal custom to abstain from wearing gold on this day[1]: Rabbi Akiva Eiger[2] cites that the minhag to avoid wearing gold on Yom Kippur is because it is reminiscent of the sin of the Golden Calf. Interestingly, he says there that it does not apply to women or Levi’im because they did not participate in this sin. Interestingly some sources maintain that wearing white gold is not included in this prohibitive custom as it represents the Tikkun of the gold.

As we entered into our nationhood[3] and celebrated our unique relationship with the Creator of the world we fell into arguably the ultimate denial of this Truth and a complete backslide towards of our previous existence in exile, we worshipped an idol a violation of the ten commandments that we received together collectively at Mt. Sinai.

What is perhaps even more shocking, is that the Israelites would worship the iconography of the golden calf later in their history[4] in the time of King Jeroboam I, king of Israel (10th century BCE) he actually built two of them! The dual symbolism is possibly related to the fact there were different deities that shared similar iconography:

In Egypt they worshipped both the gods Hathor (depicted as a bull) and Apis (as a calf), whilst in Canaanite theology they worshipped El (a bull) and Baal, (an ox).

As to how the Golden Calf was actually created, Rashi explains that there are actually 3 opinions in our tradition concerning this[5]:

1. According to the simple understanding of the verses Aaron formed it due to intense pressure from the mob by smelting and forming a calf from the molten gold taken from gold earrings.

It is interesting that piercing the ear is a symbol of slavery from our previous parsha of Mishpatim[6] – here the return to the philosophy of pre-exodus is symbolically the source of their idolatry.

Jewelry is used as embellishment and adornment of a specific body part as a beautification; in the narrative of the Torah, it also comes to deliver a spiritual message, the ear is symbolic of the ability to listen to Hashem and his Torah: hence we recite the Shema (“Listen”) prayer twice daily, this element of spiritual beautification of the ear was unfortunately used to serve other gods.

2. Sorcerers from the Erev Rav formed it using magic.

The Erev Rav, or Mixed Multitude in English, first appears in the Torah in Parashat Bo[7]:
“The Children of Israel journeyed on foot from Rameses to Succos, approximately 600,000 adult males, aside from the children. A mixed multitude also left with them, as did flocks, herds, and a lot of cattle.”

There is somewhat of a disagreement amongst the commentators as to just who the Erev Rav were, these views range from the Pshat (simple explanation) that they were Egyptians who joined the Israelites as they triumphantly left Egypt, to the ever-returning cause of all mishaps and evil that the Children of Israel undertake throughout history.

3. Micah (a member of the Erev Rav whose life had been saved by Moses), created the calf. When the Jewish people were leaving Egypt, Moses went to collect Joseph’s coffin to fulfil his request that his remains be redeemed together with the Jews. However, to prevent the Israelite from leaving, the Egyptians had sunk Joseph’s coffin in the Nile. Moses took a plaque, wrote on it the words “alei shor alei” (“rise ox rise”), and threw it in the river, causing the coffin of Joseph (who is compared to an ox) to rise to the surface. Micah had stolen this plaque and now used it to create the calf by throwing it into the blaze.

Moshe returned from the mountain to witness the scene not only of worshipping the idol, but also of immorality and hedonism, the opposite of what the Torah he carried commanded, and he threw down and shattered the tablets.

The Midrash[8] teaches that Moses rationalized that it was better that Israel be judged as an unmarried woman (who acts promiscuously) than as a married one.” The tablets being the marriage contract between Hashem and Israel so once the tablets were given to them, their punishment would have been much harsher. Moses destroyed the marriage contract before giving it to minimize the severity of the sin and the consequent punishment.

All human beings are to an extent creatures of inherent hypocrisy, we set ourselves high standards that sometimes we cannot live up to and find that experience is perhaps the most expensive and painful teacher, our fall from inspiration to lawlessness is a real lesson: how often we can fall from contentment and righteousness to despair at the mistakes we have committed against ourselves, each other and of course the standard that wish to hold others to.

In our Torah a new relationship standard is introduced, between us and our creator; it is a high standard with powerful consequences both in terms of its fulfilment and disobedience from it, it begins a new chapter in which there is a marriage between Creator and created; like marriage it begins with profound inspiration and head-over-heels excitement and then must inevitably deal with the disillusion of imperfection; a strong marriage is one that does not surrender when the standards are not met and finds ways to move forwards focused on their love and commitment to each other.

Israel is still the bride of our Creator and through the storms and upheavals of history, we may have occasionally fallen short of our standards but never forsaken our love and ongoing relationship, sometimes, much like in our Purim story the events may seem confused and clouded, but nonetheless Hashem is always in control and leading us to our eventual and complete Geulah.


Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2023 ©


[1] Matah Ephraim (610:11):
[2] Shulchan Aurech – Orach Chaim: 610.
[3] Following the Exodus from Egypt.
[4] Book of Kings 1:12-25-33
[5] Rashi on Shemot/Exodus 32:4.
[6] Shemot/Exodus 21:1-6
[7] Ibid: 12:37)
[8] Shemot Rabbah: 43:1