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Two Minutes of Torah: Ki Tissa - Doubt and Fear

In his inaugural address F.D.R. famously said "First of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Nameless unreasoning unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."  When thinking about F.D.R.'s words I find that in my own life when I am fearful of an outcome or fearful of a situation  I can feel like I am almost paralyzed.   Often for me it's fear of the unknown which is the most powerful and most paralyzing.  But I have yet to experience a time when my fears have been fully realized; usually my imagination is far worse than the reality of which I am concerned.  

In this week's Torah portion we see how fear of the unknown was a powerful force for the Israelites.  Standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, having witnessed God's power forty days earlier with the giving of the Ten Commandments, one might imagine that they would be a people filled with faith, and ready to embark on their journey towards the Promised Land.  But we read 'When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, 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)

In this way, the people's concern is: where is Moses?  What has happened to this man who went up the mountain forty days ago?  And yes forty days is a long time for him to have been gone but what seems to be the case is that with no certainty and with no connection to Moses they have become fearful of what lies ahead.  

And rather than wait, rather than have faith; they come to Aaron and they don't simply ask for a replacement for Moses but they ask for a replacement for God, who can go before the people.  And it's very pointed that they imagine that this God that they are talking of will go before them; they fear the unknown.  They fear the wilderness that lies ahead of them and they fear embarking on the journey towards that unknown without their leader.  

And so we find ourselves dealing with the incident of the Golden Calf, arguably our people's greatest sin during their wilderness years.  And when we think about it, at its root, this sin came from a place of fear.  A place of that paralyzing terror that stopped the people from being able to move forward, and to continue on their journey, or in their case, to simply wait.  Wait for Moses to return down the mountain, wait to see him with them again, and wait for the indication to continue towards the Promised Land. 

How different things might have been if they had not let their fear get the better of them, but had instead waited just a little bit longer. 

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