Ki Tisa: The Golden Garden

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

"And the people saw ki boshesh Moshe, that Moshe delayed in coming down from the mountain" (32:1). As a young nation coming from a hedonistic society that had many gods, the transition to a monotheistic people living a disciplined life was not (and is not) an easy one. They needed lots of 'hand-holding' as they matured as a people, and were paralyzed with their leader away. The people wanted a relationship with G-d; they just did not know how to do so on their own.

"The people gathered on Aaron, and said to him: 'Get up and make for us elohim (a god), for this man Moshe, who took us out of Egypt--we do not know what happened to him.'" Like a child whose mother leaves home for few moments only to come back to pandemonium, Moshe's absence was catastrophic. It caused an almost irreparable rift in the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d, and changed the fundamental nature of our religion. No longer would our worship of G-d be an abstract one; we would need to build a sanctuary to house G-d, a tangible place from which G-d would never be missing. As with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, man's relationship with G-d would be transformed forever.

"And they were both naked, Man and his wife; v'lo yitboshesho, and they were not embarrassed" (Breisheet 2:25). The term boshesh, translated as "delayed" and "embarrassed", links the story of Creation with that of the golden calf. The sin of the golden calf was not only a rejection of the Sinaitic covenant, but also of creation itself. Many commentaries wonder why the aseret hadibrotbegin with the G-d of history ("I am the Lord your G-d, who took you out of Egypt"), and not with the G-d of creation. In truth, they are one and the same. Belief in a G-d of creation who does not intervene in history is akin to atheism and idolatry. Gan Eden was the place where man could rendezvous with G-d, living an almost godly existence in perpetuity. Alas, v'lo yitboshesho, man lacked shame, and man was driven from the presence of G-d.

Twenty-six generations later, man in general--and the Jewish people specifically--had an opportunity to recreate that bond. While Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, while Moshe was on Sinai, "bread I did not eat and water I did not drink" (Devarim 9:9). Alas, ki boshesh Moshe, Moshe delayed, and the opportunity slipped away. "And G-d said to Moshe, 'Go down, for your people have sinned, the people you brought out from Egypt'" (32:7). Tragically, Moshe did not realize that the people needed him. This was no time for a private rendezvous with G-d! They were his people, and they were lost without his leadership.

Perhaps, as we did in the instance of Gan Eden, here at Sinai we can also translate boshesh as "embarrassed". Moshe was on the mountain with G-d; how could he leave? He was understandably "embarrassed" to tell G-d he had to leave. He had forgotten (or maybe did not yet know) that Abraham had once told G-d that he had to leave to attend to three people he saw approaching, strangers no less; "greater is welcoming guests than greeting the Divine Presence". How much more so must one leave G-d's presence to give the word of G-d to the people!

"And G-d banished the man vayashken, He stationed, at the east of the Garden of Eden, the Cherubim" (Breisheet 3:24). At the same time G-d banishes, He gives us the opportunity to return. The Cherubim, made in the image of a loving couple, were to adorn the mishkan. Man may have been banished from Eden, and the Divine Presence may "limit itself" to the mishkan, but G-d awaits our return. Al tiboshesh, do not be embarrassed and do not delay!