Reprinted with permission from The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, edited by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss (New York: URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008).
Years ago, my boyfriend and I climbed the alleged Mount Sinai, with the shower of Perseus streaking the Egyptian night sky with shooting stars. At the summit, as God pulled the sun up from the fragrant desert floor, Jonathan held up a ring and proposed. It is written in Pirkei Avot, “Every day a voice goes forth from Sinai” (6:2). That dawn, I heard the reverberation of a sacred voice in the words, “Would you be willing to spend your life with me?”
The revelation at Mount Sinai was a wedding-an eternal, loving joining between God and Israel. The story we read is but a veil covering a radiance we must allow ourselves to know.
This Torah portion, Ki Tissa, begins with Moses taking a census. God then chooses Bezalel to be the artisan of the Tabernacle. Moses climbs Mount Sinai, shrouded in mist and mystery, while the Israelites below build their golden idol. When Moses sees this, he breaks the stone tablets, grinds up the golden calf, and makes the Israelites drink it. Moses ascends the mountain a second time. When he descends, his face is so radiant that he must wear a veil.
But a light ruach (wind) blows from the west, disturbing the mist, and we see the radiant face just beneath the veil of text.
Moses is the master alchemist. He climbs the mountain, hides in the cleft of the tzur (rock). He speaks with the philosopher’s stone face to face. He holds the two tablets of prime matter in his hands. When he grinds up the calf into a fine powder, stirs it into water, holds it up into the air, a brilliant liquid shimmering with flakes of gold, he creates a dizzyingly potent potion, a love potion, an elixir of life. A toast!
We drink of it. Our eyes are opened to see beneath the veil. Ki Tissa is not about frenzied idol worship, but the detailed description of a spectacular wedding feast between God and the people Israel. God-the-Lover and Moses-the-beloved take a census of who shall be invited, and they make the long guest list: 600,000 and growing. Bezalel is singled out to decorate the Tent, arrange the flowers, and adorn the feast.