Parashat Ki Tissa

The Idol Of Complacency

The prohibition against making an idol warns us not to fix our image of God, but rather to allow our conception of God to evolve.

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The Torah itself hints at this flowing and dynamic model of spirituality, just a few verses before, by enumerating 13 different "attributes" of the Holy One (verses 6-7) when Moses asks to see God's "face." Moses may have wanted the same thing that the Israelites did when they made the Calf: a palpable, visible, imaginable, conceivable Deity.

To me, the great genius of Judaism is its insistence that we never stop striving for holiness and spiritual growth--there's no way to "grasp" the God of Israel entirely, no ending point in out quest for insight. God is not limited by denominational ideologies (though they are valuable learning tools), political inclinations, or intellectual paradigms--rather, authentic spirituality breaks through our easy answers and forces us to admit that there is learning yet to do.

A famous pop psychology book from the early 80's captured this insight into its title: "If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!" I'm no expert on Buddhism, but I understand this to mean that as soon as you think you've found the endpoint, "met the Buddha," you're in trouble. If I were writing a similar book, I'd take my title from the Kotzker's understanding of this verse: "If Your God is Routine and Comfortable, You've Made a Molten Idol!" It probably wouldn't be a bestseller, but it might impart an important truth about the hard work of Jewish growth.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.