To paraphrase the song from Finnian’s Rainbow, "When I’m Not Near The G"d I Love…I Love The G"d I’m Near"
We are so fickle. When things are going our way, we embrace the things we believe in. When things aren’t going our way, we eschew the things we believe in and seek new things to embrace. It’s a condition that I fear humanity will never outgrow. In fact, the condition grows worse over time. So many in this world live so much better lives than others, yet, rather than count themselves lucky, jump on the merest of inconveniences as an excuse to be fickle in their beliefs.
If I learn anything from parashat Ki Tisa, it is not to worry so much about being fickle. G"d certainly doesn’t like us to be fickle, and almost destroyed us as a result. Yet Moshe was able to appeals to G"d’s vanity (what a human thing to do) and not only convince G”d to stay G"d’s wrath, but shortly after, to go forth in the midst of the very Israelites G"d had recently threatened to destroy utterly. Not a bad trick. Speaks well of Moshe’s cunning, and not so well of G"d, I’m afraid.
I also learn not to worry about my own fickleness when I consider Aharon. Aharon, that G"d makes high priest, and creates a priestly dynasty of his lineage, is swayed by the people to build the golden calf. Then he tries to lie his way out of it (see Ex. 32:24.) To paraphrase, Aharon says "Hey, they asked me to make a G"d, so I collected their earrings and melted them down and voila, out popped an idol." Right. Tells us another one, Aharon.
After all this, Aharon still gets to be high priest, and father of a hereditary priesthood. If G"d can overlook Aharon’s being fickle, then why not mine or yours? The Torah and the rest of Tanakh are replete with stories of how fickle a people we are. We kept asherot (the Levantine equivalent of a totem pole, for lack of a better analogy)in our yards. As the haftarah for parashat Ki Tisa tells, we were easily swayed by the Ba’alim. (And just as easily swayed back to the G"d of Israel by Elijah’s parlor tricks.)
Remember how Yaakov said that "if You see me safely on my journey, then You will be my G"d"? Fickle.
Must belief be constant to be valid? Surely not. We doubt all the time. We’re that "struggle with G"d" people. It’s only natural for us to be fickle.
Yet, just as this parasha perhaps gives us some leeway to be fickle, it also warns us against this very nature of ours. We are not follow or become ensnared by the beliefs of those with whom we come into contact (in this particular case, when we set out to take their lands away from them. Just thought I’d mention that.)
Ki Tisa does try and teach us that there is a right way to worship and a wrong way. The wrong way is to follow the beliefs and customs of others. The right way is to follow the commandments and observe the festivals and rituals as laid out in Ex. 34:18-26.
G"d acknowledges that we are fickle, that this is a flaw in our makeup (and, if G"d created us, whose fault is that?) G"d figures that perhaps previous admonitions weren’t specific enough, since the people went and asked for the golden calf to be made, and then proceeded to worship it. So here (Ex. 34:10-26) G"d gets more specific. Perhaps it’s an attempt to warn us to guard against our fickle natures.
Now let’s consider the irony. So much of Jewish history, particularly in the rabbinic period, is all about finding loopholes. First, the rabbis develop this system for clarifying the halakha. Then they find the workarounds (remember Hillel’s "prosbul?") By creating such a strict and rigid system of halakha, we set ourselves up for trouble, because we know of our own fickle natures. So we find ways to bend the rules and live with our fickle selves. what a fine pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into with all of this. Yes, by reinventing Judaism, the rabbis saved it. At the same time, they created a monster. I’ll admit it was a pretty good system — after all, it’s only in recent history, after two millennia had past, that the most serious cracks and chinks began to develop in fence that the rabbis had drawn around the Torah. A system that works for 2000 years is not something to simply chuck away with complete disregard. Yet this system is ill-equipped to deal with the exploding size of our fickle natures. The easier and better our lives get, the more fickle we become. We become emboldened. We outgrow our need for G"d, or so we believe. Until things go wrong. The old adage about there not being atheists in foxholes has a strong element of truth to it.
G"d seems willing, in the end, to forgive and put up with our fickle natures (perhaps in part, because G"d feels some responsibility for that.) So let’s not beat ourselves up, and worry about being in a fickle pickle all the time. Cherish your inconsistencies. They make you human. After all, G"d, as described in our tradition, is also fickle and full of inconsistencies. Once again, we are b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of G"d) and G"d is b’tzelem anashim (in the image of humanity.)
My suggestion for this Shabbat – worry more about your favorite kind of pickle, than about being fickle. Isn’t that a dilly. (Sorry.) Don’t be sour with me. (Sorry again.) Just barrel on through. (Sorry yet again.) Time to go now and welcome the bride of Shabbat. (Ooh, that one was really bad. I’ll stop now.)
©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester