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Would You Die... Or Kill... For What You Believe?

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Today’s Torah Devotional from Exodus 31:18 – 33:11
The Second Book of the Torah, “Shemot,” “Names.”
This weeks reading is “Ki Tisa,” “When you take.”

Todays reading begins with GOD giving Moses/Moshe two tablets of the Testimony.

These are stone tablets, written by GOD, in HIS own script, on both sides, writing visible from each side.

At the same time, the people have become weary of waiting on Moshe to come back down the mountain. They are “concerned” that he may be lost or may not come back.

The people insist Aaron create for them an oracle to lead them, much in the manner of Egyptian lifestyle and belief. Their old ways.

The people are extremely restless, wanting to move forward with something they can believe in. Aaron asks for their jewelry, the rings from the ears of their wives and children, which he fashions into a casting of a calf.

The people begin to proclaim this calf is their god, who brought them out of Egypt. Aaron builds an altar before this calf and announces that “Tomorrow, there will be a festival to GOD.”

The next day the people did get up early and sacrifice peace offerings, eating and drinking with one another festively.

However, GOD, knowing full well what the people are doing, tells Moshe to “Go down, for the people whom you brought out of Egypt have become corrupt.”

‘They have been quick to leave the way that I ordered them to follow, and they have made themselves a cast-metal calf and have bowed down and offered sacrifice to it, exclaiming, ‘This, Israel, is your god, who brought you out of Egypt.’”

GOD declare they are un unbending people, Moshe is no to try and stop HIM when HE unleashes HIS wrath against them to destroy them, then HE will make Moshe a great nation.

Moshe pleads before GOD to not unleash HIS wrath against HIS own people, whom HE brought out of Egypt, less others use this to say, GOD only brought them out to slay them.

He asks GOD to withdraw HIS display of anger and refrain from doing evil to HIS people, reminding HIM of HIS covenant with Abraham, Issac and Jacob, to bring their descendants as numerous as the stars to the land of promise.

GOD refrains from lashing out against HIS people for Moshe’s argument and Moshe returns down the mountain, to the people with the Tablets of the Testimony in his hand.

As Moshe descends the mountain he comes to Joshua, who has been waiting for him. Joshua has heard the sound of the people rejoicing, telling Moshe, it sounds like a battle going on in the camp.

Moshe replies it is not the song of victory or the dirge of defeat, it is just plain singing.

As Moshe approaches the camp, he sees the calf, the dancing and the merriment, he becomes very angry, throwing down the tablets at the foot of the mountain.

He takes the calf and burns it in the fire, grinding it into a fine powder, then scattering it on the water and making the Israelites drink it.

He goes to Aaron asking him, “What did the people do to you that you allowed them to commit such a great sin?”

Aaron replies with blaming the people, their bad tendencies, their desire for an oracle to lead them, their “un-rest” not knowing what had happened to Moshe.

Aaron continues his excuse by explaining when he asked who had gold the people just took off their jewelry and gave it to him. He threw the gold in the fire and the result was this calf.

Moshe realizes the people are not completely committed to GOD, they are too far entrenched in their previous ways, the ways of Egypt.

Moshe then speaks out from the camps entrance, “Whoever is for GOD, join me!”

All of the Levites gathered around him, he said to them, “Let each man put on his sword and go from one gate to the other, in the camp. Let each one kill all involved in the idolatry, even his own brother, close friend or relative.”

They did as Moshe ordered and approximately 3000 were killed that day.

The next day Moshe announce the people had committed a terrible sin, he must now go back up to GOD and try to gain atonement for their crime.

Moshe returned unto GOD confirming they had committed a terrible sin by making a golden idol. If HE would, please forgive their sin, if not, HE could blot Moshe out of the book.

GOD replies to Moshe, “I will blot out from MY book, those who have sinned against ME.”

GOD then commands Moshe to return to the people and lead them away from the mountain, back on the path towards the land of promise, sending HIS angel before them, yet taking their sin into account, HE strikes them with a plague because of the calf that Aaron had made.

The Angel of the Lord will go before them driving out those who inhabit the land of promise, however, due to their being an unbending people, GOD will not go with them, HE may even destroy them along the way.

Upon hearing this news the people began to mourn. They stopped wearing jewelry from that day.

GOD told Moshe, say to the Israelites, “You are an unbending people, in just one second I can go among you and utterly destroy you. Now take off your jewelry and I will know what to do with you.”

Moshe takes his tent and sets it up outside the camp, at a distance. He called it the Meeting Tent, later, whoever sought GOD would go to the Meeting Tent outside the camp.

When Moshe would go out to the tent, the people all rose and watched, standing near their own tent, gazing until he went into this tent. When Moshe did enter the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the tent’s entrance and GOD would speak to Moshe.

When the people would see the pillar of cloud, each one would rise and bow down at the entrance of his tent, towards the cloud.

Moshe would talk with GOD in this tent, much as anyone face to face would speak. Moshe would then return to the camp but his aid, the young man Joshua, would always remain.

These scriptures teach us so much about the people of Israel, the mixed multitude who had come out of Egypt, who had just said, “all that GOD has said, we will do,” who had the Divine privilege of knowing GOD, living at the bottom of HIS Holy Mountain, actually, physically in GOD’s presence.

These people knew GOD, they trembled before HIM, they begged HIM to speak only to Moshe for fear of their lives, yet as soon as GOD was no longer before them, they went running back to the ways of Egypt, the ways which were contradictory to the very things they had promised.

These people had heard GOD command them to have no other gods before HIM, to make no image of anything as an idol to worship, yet this is exactly what they turned to when they got a little uncomfortable, a little unsure of what was going on, forgetful of the FEAR they had experienced from the Voice of GOD.

GOD called them “unbending.” Certainly GOD was being kind in HIS words, for we could definitely call them many other things, much less kind.

These people, GOD’s people, had witnessed the miraculous, the extraordinary, the Divine. They were not strangers to GOD but they were obviously not completely convinced. Somehow they had fallen from “all in” to “unsure.”

Are we no different? Have we compromised our faith, our belief, our FEAR of GOD for the comforts of this life, this world, our society?

Do we behave just like the Israelites, seeking GOD as long as HE is in front of us, as long as we need HIM, as long as we “feel like it,” then walking right back into our old, comfortable, Egyptian ways?

Those who chose to follow GOD, joining with Moshe, took their swords and went through the camp killing those who “fell for it” and worshiped the idol calf. These people killed some of their own family, their friends and relatives, their own countrymen in obedience of GOD.

Do you think these people were acting in their own best interest?

Could you have done what they did, obeying GOD over your own family, friends, compatriots?

Who do we fear more, man or GOD? The answer to that question can be found in the way you live your life, not in the words you speak but the actions, the testimony, of your everyday life.

We often put on our best around other believers. We dress differently, wearing all of the vestments of our faith, showing everyone we have conformed to the “attire of GOD’s people.”

Is that as far as it goes? Just look the right part, at the right time, in the right place, and everyone will believe our cover story that we’re “ALL IN” with GOD and HIS commandments, but aren’t we worshiping other idols on all the other days, in our other clothing, at home, at work, on the street?

Are You ALL IN, or are you like the 3000 that participated in worshiping a golden calf because you got bored waiting on Moshe to return from the mountain, or are you one of those for GOD who sided with Moshe, taking the lives of those who caused sin to come into your camp?

WE forget, the sin of one among us is sin in the entire camp. If we’re ALL IN with GOD, then we are our brothers keeper.

Just as they killed 3000 idol worshipers in the camp, we too have to be vigilant to watch out for each other, holding each other up, keeping each other from “falling away into idolatry.”

Imagine if someone had stood up to the nay-sayers, showing them the error of the decision they were making, what a different story we would have to read in these scriptures.

Why can we not be so bold, so kind, so compassionate today as to keep each other accountable, supported and loved into the continued obedience of GOD’s Commandments less we fall into the trap of which those 3000 became victims?

What are your thoughts on these scriptures?

Leave your comments below, OR, if you have questions, click over to our "Ask the Rabbi" Forum, HERE.

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