Invocation for State of the City 2017
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
The Chinese have perhaps the only continuous culture that is older than Judaism. And they have a famous curse: it is, “May you live in interesting times.”
My friends, we live in interesting times.
The last five months in America have been about as surprising as any in the last 15 years, and we have all learned that many things we believed may not actually be true. And we have even learned that some important people believe things we know not to be true.
There are many lessons in such a period in history, some of which may not be evident for a while. But one of the lessons is surely about appreciating what is real, and meaningful, and true.
Read more: Truth and Values
Lost and Found God
Posted on March 15, 2017
This week we read the portion of Ki Tisa, the story of the Golden Calf. While Moses is up on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments the Israelites start to worry he’s not coming back. And so, while God is carving the words “You shall have no other gods besides Me, nor make any image of them” into a stone tablet, the faithless people persuade his brother Aaron to make them an idol of gold, a calf, that they can call their new god. Pleased with the result, they worship it and then throw a big party, a bacchanal, a carnival, Mardi Gras in the Sinai.
Coming down the mountain, Joshua and Moses hear the noise from the camp below, and are astonished. Joshua thinks it must be the sound of battle, but Moses knows what a party sounds like when he hears it. And when Moses sees all the cavorting, and the Chosen People worshipping a golden idol, he throws down the sacred stone tablets of the commandments, shattering them. The music and dancing stop suddenly. It is a shocking scene.
For the rabbis this is one of most dramatic and distressing portions in the entire Torah. The problem is acute: according to the text, our people witnessed the divine power of the Ten Plagues, were personally saved at the shore of the Sea of Reeds by God, received the direct revelation at Sinai—in short, experienced God more directly than any other group in history ever has—and almost immediately afterwards turned around and rejected that God in order to worship a cow made out of their own jewelry.
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ki Tisa 5777