D’var Torah: Changing times



A student’s arrival on a college campus is often accompanied by a great deal of uncertainty. Students must adjust to a new environment, new schedules, and a new sense of freedom and autonomy. In response to these changes, students, even those that go to university with friends from home, will often look for a new set of peers with whom to socialize or get involved in clubs or organizations that do not reflect what their interests from High School, or even engage in behavior that could be described as risky. For many parents, these changes can be surprising or even unsettling, but are not outside the norm as part of the university experience.

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, Moses is delayed in his descent from Sinai. In the face of this delay, the newly liberated Jewish people go to Aaron, clamoring for an object to venerate as a god, saying “Arise, make us a god which shall go before us; because this man Moses, who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what has become of him.”

As a result of the uncertainty of the fate of Moses and the void left during his absence, the Jewish people begin to also feel a great degree of uncertainty in their fate as well. In this moment of doubt, they go to Aaron to facilitate a transition to new leadership, including an idol for them to direct their worship. The biblical commentator, Rashbam, also explains that this “god” would be made by sorcery and tell them everything they needed to know. Like students left alone on a college campus for the first time, the Jewish people, being left without the oversight of Moses, are also looking for direction to go along with their shifting reality. Uncertainty often creates a feeling of vulnerability and in response to a new situation, sometimes make choices that are emblematic of that change but might not be the best choices for us.

The story of the Jewish people and the Golden Calf teaches us the dangers of making hasty decisions in the face of uncertainty. Changing times leave us all unsettled, and new environments filled with new people, are also replete with new opportunities, however they do not all lead to positive outcomes. This is true as much for a First Year student on a college campus as it is for any one of us facing life changes. Ki Tisa reminds us to be deliberate in our choices, especially when the road before us is unclear and our terrain unfamiliar.

Rabbi Jordan Gerson is the Silk Foundation Campus Rabbi and Chief Experience Officer of Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis. Rabbi Gerson is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.