His Intangible Presence

“This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:4

The midrash explains that because the verse reads, “this is your god,” instead of “this is our god,” the us of the pronoun, “your” implies that the Egyptian idolaters amongst B’nei Yisrael were the instigators of the ruckus; they were addressing the Israelites, in an attempt to impose an Egyptian deity upon Israel. On the part of the Israelites, because of a failure to comprehend an abstract rendering of H’Shem, as an intangible Be-ing, they readily accepted a more concrete form of a god, to replace what they could not see.

Yet, it is important to note, that one way to view this is that the calf was meant to replace Moses as a leader, as referred to in the verse, “Make us a god who shall go before us; for that fellow Moses – the man who brought us from the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him” (Exodus 32:1, JPS 1985 Tanach). As conferred by Nachmanides, who explicitly states that the idea of the people was to replace Moses as a leader.

Even so, this type of mentality is challenging to understand, since from our vantage point, it is clear that the golden calf was an inanimate object, utterly incapable of serving as a guide. Yet, in their minds, it represented the one who had led them up until this point, whereas they had thought he was lost.

What happened to Moshe? He was on the mountain for forty days; yet, the people miscalculated, and expected him back sooner. They quickly grew impatient, and resorted to an alternative plan, abandoning Moses as lost, perhaps, even consumed amongst the fiery presence of G-d upon the mountaintop (Targum Yonaton).

What can be learned from their impatience? From a psychological perspective, after separation anxiety settled into their hearts, panic may have compelled them to listen to the prompting of the foreigners, prompting them to take immediate action to produce something concrete to cling to, representative of their aspirations and goals, a reassurance of safety in the wilderness.

We need to search our souls and ask ourselves how much we have made the progressive shift from concretization of G-d to a more abstract understanding of Him. For even though this was the expected path for the Israelites, having been led out of Egypt, where idolatry flourished, into Eretz Yisrael, where the One True G-d was worshipped eventually in the Temple, we are still subject to the same lure of the material world, in the face of our insecurities. Additionally, the concretization of values, beliefs, and “idols” is counter to the pure worship of the heart that H’Shem expects of us.

Today, in regard to our avodah (service) towards H’Shem, we should behold His presence, without placing any conceptions in our minds, in regard to His “appearance.” Whether in prayer or meditation, this is the ideal. For, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3, JPS). For us, today, this would include anything that would entail as an obstacle between a person and G-d. In other words, anything held in the heart, figuratively speaking, as more important to us than G-d.

Author: tzvifievel

My focus is on the synthesis of psychology, religion, and writing. I have undergraduate degrees in Psychology and English. Additionally, I hold a certificate in Rubenfeld Synergy (psychophysical re-education).

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