Beware the Golden Calf

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-...

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-35, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Biblical tradition after the Israelites were liberated from bondage of the Pharoah of Egypt they arrived at Mt. Sinai where the first and only mass revelation of the Almighty Creator of the world occurred.  The mountain was shrouded in thick smoke and fire blazed as the voice of the Almighty uttered the Decalogue (or 10 Commandments).  The people feared for their lives and begged Moses to go up to the mountain and act as an intermediary between themselves and this awesome manifestation of the Creator.  So Moses went up the mountain where it is believed the rest of the Torah (or first 5 books of the Bible) were communicated to him over the course of 40 days.

Apparently it only took 40 days for this awesome revelation to be forgotten and the Israelites demanded Moses’ brother Aaron to create a new God for them.  So all the gold was collected and the Golden Calf appeared.   It’s amazing how quickly the people turned to a new god after witnessing the awesome power of the Creator.  When Moses came down from the mountain he was outraged at the idolatry, destroyed the tablets and ordered the execution of thousands before going back up the mountain to beg for forgiveness and receive the Torah again.

It is very unlikely that this Biblical Account is based on an actual event that occurred.  To be totally honest, it doesn’t have to be based on a true event to teach a very important message.  The Bible is a highly allegorical book with veiled teachings and very little of it should be taken literally.  It has been a long tradition, that still exists to this day, to teach lessons – especially ones about life and morality – using stories (or parables).  This is why Rabbis and scholars have studied the Bible so much for thousands of years.  

So, let’s look at this allegorically and with a touch of rationalism.

Why on earth would people who had just witnessed the undeniable revelation of the Almighty start worshiping a Golden Calf?  Surely if you or I had witnessed something like this we would never had resorted to the worship of an inanimate object, right?

Wrong.

The Golden Calf is still around today and is worshiped by more people than any other god that has ever been worshiped.  In fact, at one point in time everyone reading this (myself included) has worshiped the Golden Calf.  Not the physical one, but what it actually represents.

Gold = wealth, money, power

Calf = food, sustenance, possessions

Combine the 2 and you have the formula for the root of all evil – greed.

So what’s the lesson?

We should not think that the world revolves around us.  That our problems are bigger than someone else’s.  That we are more deserving than someone else to have a bigger house or a larger income.  That personal wealth makes us better than our friends. The thought that the person who works at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s is any less of a person than the CEO of a major corporation is detestable and immoral.  The Golden Calf represents the dangers of people relying on the physical things to make themselves happy or to calculate their worth.  It’s not what’s in your bank account that defines you, it’s what’s in your heart and your mind.

In addition to not valuing the physical and monetary is the necessity to revere God.  God, is not a tyrant and not an anthropomorphic judgemental deity.  God, in the simplest of terms, is the essence of life and the origin of love and morality.

The lesson is to value life and to love one another and that morality really matters.  To accept the fact that there is something beyond our comprehension that enables life and weaves together the fabric of time and space.  That nothing we gather in life goes with us when we die.  So rather than focus all our energy on ourselves, we should focus it more on those around us.

Beware the Golden Calf.

Shavuot – The arrival of the Torah

I must apologize for the length of time between my last post and now.  I started this blog for 3 reasons:

  1. To help me by means of a manual outlet to express my views about God while still searching and seeking a closer understanding of the various paths.
  2. To find a path that works for me, should one exist.
  3. To share the experience with all of you.

I grew up a Christian and the tenets of that faith were what I followed for most of my childhood.  As I grew up I had a serious problem with the entire concept of the Almighty diminishing himself in human form to sacrifice himself in order to wash away all sin.  The problem to me is the whole doctrine of irresponsibility of the Christian faith.  Now, rather than go on an anti-Christian rant I will continue the story. .. I rejected all revealed religion and detested the mere concept of organized religion in general.  Then I became a Freemason and began to read some really amazing books and learn things I’d never even imagined.  A lot of Freemasonry finds its origin in the Judeo-Christian Bible and the Kabbalah.  Since I was a Christian, and went to well over a decade of Bible Study classes, I assumed I knew the Bible already and so I took an interest in the Kabbalah.  As I started my Kabbalah journey I found many references to the Torah and it became clear that in order to really grasp the true Kabbalah (not the Madonna red string nonsense) you needed to first master the Torah.  I then found out the study of the Torah in Judaism is significantly different to the “Old Testament” presented in Christianity (for my Christian friends that may not know, the Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). 

So I  began studying Torah and after a distracting intermission where I reread The Age of Reason (which while interesting and inflammatory, completely misses the fact that much of the Torah and the rest of the Bible is allegory) I have been studying the Torah every day now for the last few months and it is without a doubt the most enlightening and rewarding experience my mind has ever had.   I am hooked.  The Torah, Talmud, the Midrash, and the rest of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism have me pretty convinced that my path is already paved and all I needed was the right map.  I continue to study the Torah every night using various rabbinic commentaries and I can honestly say that I learn something new every day and that I have never been more motivated to be a better person than when I read It.

Today starts a very critical holiday in the Jewish year.  It is Shavuot.  It should be an important day for Christians and Muslims as well as it is the celebration of the giving of the Torah.  It is a unarguable fact that the world changed when the Torah was received and while 3 faiths have derived from it, the Torah itself remains unchanged and still very relevant.

As is the custom for this day, I will write the Decalogue or 10 Commandments that sum up the Torah in the most simple yet sublime way:

  1. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The first 3 commandments can be summed into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” and the last 7 can summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  

Using this as a foundation, can you imagine the way the world would be?   If we didn’t revolve our lives around money, there would be no greed and no poverty.  Imagine a world without broken promises, where fathers and mothers set work aside to spend with their children.  Imagine a world where everyone respects life and you never have to fear for your own safety.  Imagine a society built on trust and honor.

The Torah states that these rules were etched into stone by the hand of God.  The tablets are now lost but, the words are not and they should be written in our minds and inscribed in our hearts. 

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

Etched in stone; inscribed in the heart…

I’ve been struggling with what to write because the last few weeks I have been getting questions from a lot of you on my posts.  I am so glad most of you find my blog enlightening.  For those of you who are fearful of the fate of my soul, I am not worried.  I don’t believe in the existence of a hell or a devil.  I view hell as a scare tactic and the devil as a mere cop-out for being responsible for your own actions.

In my last blog post I discussed that I respected the character of Jesus and was going to write about his teachings.  However, before any discussion can be had on anything Jesus may have said it is important to know the most widely accepted beliefs of who Jesus was and the climate he is said to have lived in.  (I say beliefs because we have no way of proving any of this so we cannot say these are facts.)

  • Jesus was Jewish.
  • There were multiple denominations and sects of Judaism during the time he is said to have lived.
  • Some sects observed the Talmud and some observed other unwritten laws but, all of them observed the 10 Commandments.
  • For the most part all of Jesus’ teachings were based on the 10 Commandments.
  • There are 2 versions of the 10 Commandments, one in the book of Exodus (Exodus 20:2–17) and the other in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 5:6–21).

According to Jewish Scripture the 10 Commandments found in the book of Exodus were actually carved into stone tablets by God and given to Moses on a mountain in the Sinai peninsula (some say Mt. Horeb others Mt. Sinai).  Whether it actually happened that way or not is not important, as the 10 commandments are a relevant and powerful code of ethics.

There are multiple ways of dividing them but, generally the 10 commandments are as follows:

  1. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not kill/murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

For the most part these are relatively self-explanatory but,  Jesus simplified the first 3 commandments into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” and the last 7 he summed up as “Love your neighbor as yourself”.   This universal law of love Jesus is said to have taught, should be enough for man to build a sense of morality.  The flaw in this approach is that it leads to an element of subjectivity that can vary by one’s interpretation of the meaning of love and how much they may or may not love themself.   Therefore I think it is necessary to clarify some of them without the corruption of centuries of translation, editing, modifications, and unnecessary dogma.

Here is my translation of the 10 Commandments:

  1. Respect the Creator and all Creation/Nature.
  2. Do not put your faith in objects (like money) or people.
  3. Do not break promises.
  4. Remember to balance your time and always set time aside to rest.
  5. Respect your parents.
  6. Do not murder.
  7. Do not commit adultery.
  8. Do not steal.
  9. Do not lie.
  10. Be grateful for what you have and not envious of what others have.

Using this as a foundation, can you imagine the way the world would be?   If we respected our creator and nature, we would not pollute or take things like the air we breathe for granted.  If we didn’t revolve our lives around money, there would be no greed and no poverty.  Imagine a world without broken promises, where fathers and mothers set work aside to spend with their children.  Imagine a world where everyone respects life and you never have to fear for your own safety.  Imagine a society built on trust and honor.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.  (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Jesus is essentially reiterating a message from Jeremiah that was centuries old.  The overall theme of all of the teachings of Jesus was that these commandments are useless if they are only etched in stone. They should be written in our minds and inscribed in our hearts.  Our intentions are just as important as our actions.  To act without conscious is empty and shallow. To love with conditions is not love.  To give for the sake of giving and not a reward is true charity and true charity is the highest expression of love.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light