|I never liked playing the blame game.
For issues large and small; global or personal, finding a culprit when things go wrong is SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Designating a goat makes us smug, superior or simply in control.
Too often we designate a goat when circumstances are either beyond our control or the result of an innocent mistake. On the other hand, there are valid times when owning up to our mistakes is an imperative. Failing to do so validates the blame game is such circumstances.
The Golden Calf episode is one of those rare scenarios for which playing the blame game is both legitimate and unfair. By imposing a new, comprehensive and overwhelming faith on the people, God and Moses have unrealistic expectations. Each time I read the Calf story, I react more sympathetically toward the young nation, newly liberated from oppression. In our lives, it is reasonable to expect a period of adjustment when beginning a new job, moving to a new neighborhood, or transitioning into a new stage of life. How, then can we expect a nation in search of identity to suddenly, successfully and painlessly embrace a new, religion?! Building the Calf is conclusive-and legitimate- evidence that God and Moses are pushing b’nai yisrael too far too quickly.
However, the people are not totally absolved of accountability. When Moses does not return from Sinai, the Israelites exhibit limited patience before building their Calf. They respond impulsively and irresponsibly, without forethought or rationality. They celebrate the Calf with unrestrained drinking and dancing. Their behavior is totally hedonistic; devoid of anything remotely spiritual. Even if they are still immature as a nation, we would expect from them some element of reverence. Instead, they pledged total commitment to their bodies and nothing to their souls. I grant them a mulligan for building the Calf but not for the revelry which followed.
Today, I understand the struggles, the doubts and the skepticism within the Jewish community when it comes to serious Jewish identification. Whether for prayer, Shabbat/Festivals, Kashrut and ongoing commitments to Jewish learning, our tradition can be overwhelming. When we also consider how Jewish institutions are agonizingly slow in calling for change, it is fairly easy to justify our indifference and disinterest.
However, we bear some responsibility for the erosion of our synagogues and for our minimalist approach to Jewish education (for children and adults).
We severe memberships in the synagogue because we find no value in providing financial support if we ourselves are not active participants. Consequently, we fail to understand that when it comes to synagogue affiliations, we need a much broader, community-oriented definition of getting value for our money.
We deny our children a comprehensive Jewish education because transporting them to a school is inconvenient and time consuming.
With greater frequency, we are designing private Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, which ignore the community at large because we believe we owe the community nothing.
We reduce and trivialize Judaism to the level of goods and services.
We ask (and ultimately respond negatively to) the wrong question: What does the Jewish community do for me? Our total approach is self-absorbed; devoid of consideration for consequences to the community at large(and for centuries of Jewish history).
Yes, there are valid reasons for young (and older) Jews to disassociate from active engagement in Jewish life. Nevertheless, we the people of Israel are not totally blameless. Like the desert Jews, matters of the spirit take a back seat to everything else.
I do not have simply solutions to the complex issues which plague modern Jewish life. As I have often expressed in writing and in speech, the established Jewish community requires a long-term infusion of new creative energy. Like the desert Jews, we cannot expect people to flock toward a faith which (in its present form) resonates poorly with Am Yisrael. Nevertheless, (also like the desert Jews) our greater community bears accountability for dismissing the spiritual aspects of our lives and for diminishing a culture and faith which have served us since the beginning of history.
It is time to re-engage.