Exodus 30:11 to 34:35
This parsha includes the two very significant events that will shape the future of the Israelite people– the construction of the Golden Calf and the subsequent visit by Moses to God where he asks the forgiveness of God for the people’s action and receives a new covenant.
Moses has just concluded his forty day meeting with the Eternal where he received the Ten Commandments and many supporting laws. To his shock, the first thing he observes upon his return is the Golden Calf which is being worshiped by the people. By disobeying the commandment not to worship idols, the Israelites greatly angered God. Because of this offense, the Eternal was ready to destroy all the Israelites. The following comment shows the lack of faith in the Eternal by the people: “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) Not only did the people go against the commandment of the Eternal by asking for an idol to worship, they stated that Moses – not the Eternal – led them out of Egypt. Because of this thinking God sent the people on a forty year journey where they could develop a true faith in God.
After viewing this grave event, Moses went back to God to ask forgiveness for the Israelites. During his conversation with the Eternal Moses learns more about God than during any previous or subsequent meeting.
Moses asks God for a meeting where he can see the Eternal, face-to-face. Moses is told that such a meeting is not possible. However, Moses does receive a detailed description of God’s attributes: “The Eternal! The Eternal! A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin – yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34:6-7)
During this meeting God also makes a new covenant with the people. “God said, I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will work such wonders as have not been wrought on all the earth or in any nation; and all the people who are with you shall see how awesome are the Eternal’s deeds which I will perform for you. Mark well what I command you this day.”
“I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jubusites. Beware of making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land against which you are advancing, lest they be a snare in your midst. No, you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts; for you must not worship any other god, Because the Eternal, whose name is Impasssioned, is an impassioned God.
You must not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for they will lust after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifices. And when you take wives from among their daughters for your sons, their daughters will lust after their gods and will cause your sons to lust after their gods.”
“You shall not make molten gods for yourselves.”
“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread – eating bread for seven days, as I have commanded you – at the set time of the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you went forth from Egypt.”
“Every first issue of the womb is Mine, from all your livestock that drop a male as firstling, whether cattle or sheep. But the firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every male first born among your children. None shall appear before Me empty-handed.”
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor; you shall cease from labor even at plowing time and harvest time.”
“You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Sovereign Eternal, the God of Israel. I will drive out nations from your path and enlarge your territory; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the Eternal your God three times a year.”
“You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with anything leavened, and the sacrifice of the Feast of Passover shall not be left lying until morning.”
“The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Eternal your God.”
“You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
“And the Eternal One said to Moses: Write down these commandments, for in accordance with these commandments I make a covenant with you and Israel.”
So, through these commandments, the people learn what the Eternal demands. According to Richard Friedman in his book, Who wrote the Bible, the commandments presented above were part of the early “J” authors Torah….. while the traditional Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) are attributed to the much later “P” or priestly authors. (Richard Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, p. 253-4) Based on this theory, some commentators feel that the “J” commandments are more likely suited for the nomadic Israelites ….. and the Priestly authored commandments were written by a more advanced people and probably were developed at a later time and written into the Torah as the original commandments…. I find it interesting to see how much of these early “J” commandments have become a part of our tradition.
However, I am bothered by the commandments to destroy the idols and symbols of other peoples. This seems too much like the workings of the modern-day ISIS we criticize today. Maybe this is the thinking of a people just beginning to develop an identity and afraid that it will be lost through assimilation. Or maybe this is just the common thought of people thousands of years ago … and adopted by a backward thinking people today.
In spite of the threats against other people, the ideas presented are very interesting and tell us a lot about the people at the time of the Exodus and what they believed their God demanded.