The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Ki Tisa and is found in Exodus 30:11-34:35. While Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Statements (10 Commandments), the people despair of his return and demand that Aaron “make us a god who shall go before us.” Aaron fashions the Golden Calf and the next day the people offer sacrifices and rise to dance before it. When Moses returns and sees what the people are doing, he angrily shatters the tablets. He destroys the calf, and 3,000 of its worshipers are put to death. Moses returns to Mount Sinai to intercede with God to save the people, and God forgives them. While on the mountain, Moses asks to see God. God replies that this is impossible but does allow his glory to pass near Moses After forty days, Moses descends the mountain with the second set of tablets.
In this parasha, we see both Moses and the people struggling to relate to an intangible God. When the heavenly elements surrounding the Giving of the Ten Statements have dissipated and Moses does not return from the mountain for days, the people plead to Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship: a god they can see. When Moses goes back up the mountain, he asks God to visibly show himself to Moses: a God Moses can see. The longing is understandable. God responds to Moses by letting him experience his glory, even though God remains invisible. God used a similar approach with the Israelites when they were at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but when Moses stayed on the mountain longer than they expected they became insecure. Today, we have “mountain” moments when we feel close to God, and we also have “valley” moments, when we feel God is intangible and far away. The reality is that God is just as close in both situations, and it is our experiences with God in the “mountain” moments that help us when we are in the valleys, until we are able to experience the mountains again.