When Fear Happens: The Golden Calf and Coronavirus

As a pulpit rabbi, part of my job is to take our ancient, sacred texts, like the Torah, and make them relevant for who we are and how we live today. Sometimes it feels like a stretch, but as has been said, “turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” (Avot d’Rabbi Natan)

Coronavirus isn’t in the Torah as far as I know, but fear of the unknown, and the disastrous consequences it can have, certainly are. In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tissa, Moses has ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah from God. After he had been up there quite a while, the people became concerned.

“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.” (Ex. 32:1)

In order–I think–to prevent a possible mutiny and save his skin, Aaron complies with the people’s request, telling them to “take the gold rings out of your wives’ ears” and bring them to him. He fashioned the egel ha-zahav, the Golden Calf, and told the people that the next day would be one of worship and rejoicing.

There’s no question in my mind that the people were truly concerned about Moses, and more so about themselves. Who would lead them? What would happen to them? Who would talk to God for them, and let them know what the Divine One expected of them?

The world-wide outbreak of COVID-19, a coronavirus, has engendered similar fears, and fear of the unknown is more likely trumping the fear of illness and death. There’s so much we don’t know about this virus, and we see a lot of conflicting information.

P’kuach nefesh, Preserving health and life, is one of the highest Jewish ideals, and a commandment which supersedes all commandments except for murder, idolatry and improper sexual relationships. Yes, many of us may be confined to our homes for longer than we’d like, but the panicking won’t make us any safer. Store shelves look like they do when we’re expecting snow!

I’m doing my best to stay safe; washing my hands while singing a couple of verses of “Siman tov u’mazel tov,” trying to keep a little more distance from others, and watching reliable sources for information.

When the Israelites asked for a god to worship, Ado-nai our God realized that perhaps the people, barely out of slavery in an idol-worshipping society, weren’t ready for a transcendent God, and forgave them, allowing us to moving on, and helping God learn how to be God.

I believe this pandemic will help to bring some positives into our lives; it will require us to call upon our inner resources to be creative, to help others, to slow down from our fast-paced lives, and to think about the things that matter.

May those who have been affected have a speedy and complete recovery. May those who are quarantined find ways to keep busy and stay sane, and may those who care for all who are in need of healing be strengthened and blessed.

Shabbat Shalom.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Sermons

Yom Kippur: Hope, Despair And A Shining Sun
Yom Kippur: Hope, Despair And A Shining Sun

Yom Kippur 5783 Like many of the quotes and poems that make their way into use, a poem attributed to an anonymous person in a concentration camp, or in hiding, became somewhat of an urban legend, and has often been taken out of context, as well as not accurately...


Kol Nidre, 5783 On Rosh Hashanah, we began our prayers in the hopes of moving God, the Holy Blessed One, from kisei din, the throne or seat of judgment, to kisei rachamim, the throne or seat of compassion. Ten days later, here we are at the eve of Yom Kippur,...

Shema: Listening, Hearing and the Shofar

Rosh Hashanah 5783, Day 2 The word, “Shema.” What do you think of when you hear it? Usually, we think of “The Shema” as the verses we chant or sing from the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, and in that context, it’s a bold theological statement. It is an idea which goes...

Latest Midrash HaZak

Kedoshim: Coming of Age in Holiness
Kedoshim: Coming of Age in Holiness

Photo and art by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi Kedoshim: Coming of Age in Holiness Rabbi Dr. Jill Hackell As I move through my 70s I find myself increasingly aware of my “senior” status in our society. Suddenly, by virtue of my age I am in a category that labels me vulnerable–I...

Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole
Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole

                                  Parasha Vayakhel: A Mirror of the Holy Whole Cherie Karo Schwartz  My Mom, Dotty Karo of blessed memory, was an ultimate crafter. She had a room stuffed with kaleidoscope-colored treasures she’d collected or had been gifted by...

Ki Tavo: Entering the Land and a New Age

Ki Tavo: Entering the Land and a New Age Charles Goldman This midrash speaks to me. Just as the people of Israel were about to embark on the next mega steps of their lives in the Holy Land, and Moses was intoning to them that they have “a heart to know, eyes to see,...

Latest Personal Blogs

Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem
Blessing My Bended Knees-A Poem

This past week, I participated in a Ritualwell class with Alden Solovy on "Writing From One Word of Torah." I distilled 3 stream-of-consciousness prompts on the word "Baruch/Berekh," the root of which can mean "blessing' and "knee, into this poem. Blessing my bended...

The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives
The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives

Photo: publicdomainpictures.net The Eshet Hayil In Our Lives An email from My Jewish Learning about “A Woman of Valor” prompted me to pivot the next evening’s planned adult learning session to looking at these 22 verses from Mishlei, the Book of Proverbs. These verses...

Live Long and Prosper?
Live Long and Prosper?

By Oklahoma Heritage Association, Gaylord-Pickens Museum - Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25656727 Live Long and Prosper? January 5, 2022 began the third year of the seven and a half-year cycle of Daf Yomi, the practice of...

Pin It on Pinterest