Without our leader Moses, we panicked

Rabbi James Stone Goodman


On the heels of the molten beast, we slipped. Make us a god, we said last week, because that man who led us out of Egypt, we don’t know what became of him (Exodus 32:1). Did we want a god, or did we want a leader? Rashi taught that we were confused; Moses was late returning from the mountaintop, and we panicked. 

What kind of leader do we want? You know what kind of leader. Someone who listens, as long as it takes. 

We knew we had a good leader. He was humble, and he receded to the heart of the story. Here at the beginning of the enterprise, we’re taught a healthy skepticism about expressed leadership. Our leader is a teacher, humble, he inspires others to grow around him. He makes room for creativity to happen, that kind of leader. 

We seem to have all we need: a great designer in the artist Betzalel, the design, the Designer, the master of ceremonies, and the one who sits with us, however long it takes, and listens. And yet we make that molten beast.

We are healed by the very things through which we were corrupted. When we slipped with the molten calf, we gathered against our master of ceremonies, Aaron (Exodus 32:1). There we gathered together in confusion, frustration, impatience. What happened to Moses? 

In this week’s story, the one who sits with us and listens gathers us together to review the plan for living (Exodus 35:1). It starts with Shabbat. Vayakhel Moshe, Moses gathered us together (same root as gathering against Aaron), and he brought what he always brings: the healing. Rashi taught it was the day after Yom Kippur, what follows is forgiveness.

We will return to building. The building will be a symbol of our healing, a sign of forgiveness from the slip with the molten beast. 

On the heels of the molten beast, Moses our teacher gathered together the entire community. We had gathered against his brother Aaron: Make us a god who will go before us, we said to Aaron, because your brother who is our heart, we don’t know what happened to him. We had been lost because our teacher could not be found. 

And that man who brought us out?

He’s back.

Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Central Reform Congregation and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, which coordinates the weekly d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.