I’ve always loved the imagery of the generation who wandered in the desert and, particularly, the notion that along this journey we experienced both the holy and the profane, the opportunity to travel somewhere new along with all the accompanying challenges and uncertainties.
Uncertainty and faith are central themes in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa. While Moses is on top of a mountain receiving the covenantal pact between God and the Jewish people to endure for all time, the masses of Israelites, stirring in their uncertainty, plead for Aaron to build them a Golden Calf; perhaps to temper the fear and anxiety of the unknown.
In this parsha, we are also introduced to my favorite character in the Torah — Bezalel — the artist-turned-architect of the holy tabernacle that will stand at the center of the community as the Israelite people wander from narrow places to Promised Land. The task of building a structure that can both accompany the community along its journey while at the same time be an elaborate dwelling place for the Holy One is also about balance. How do we construct something worthy of God’s holy presence that can also make the journey with a wandering people?
It may seem odd that at the same time Moses is discussing the Ten Commandments with God, the masses are constructing an idol to temper their fears of what is to come. And yet, it seems so basic in understanding the human experience. When we get scared, we look to find ways to feel secure — we try to build around us frameworks and structures that can help mitigate the sense of uncertainty as we travel along our journey.
We need to recognize that most of our journeys have elements of both uncertainty and faith.
It is not a solo mission. It is dependent on being part of a collective that is larger than any one person or any one tribe. It seems that, in part, the meaning and purpose of being on a journey comes from taking that journey with others. Now more than ever, I think we need to remind ourselves that built into the Jewish enterprise is a sense of being part of a broader community. We may struggle at times with how to make room for all the different tribes that want to camp around the tent, but only when we come together do we create a place worthy of God’s presence.
Rabbi Jessy Gross is the senior director for Jewish Learning and Life at the JCC of Greater Baltimore.