Vayakhel – Pekudei by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Weekly Dvar -Vayakhel-Pekudei

Vayakhel: Golden Calf, Golden Shrine


Scene: Sinai Desert, the morning after the orgy of the Golden Calf. The landscape looks desolate and destroyed: scorched earth, shell-holes from arrant lightning bolts sent by an angry LORD GOD, bits of blackened bushes and trees blowing around the landscape, like the macabre remains of a frat party. In the foreground, we see two Israelites, unconscious. They are wearing the remains of their party garments, most of these having been scorched or ripped off them, either by the near-miss of a lightning bolt, or because of the activities in which they were indulging.

The two are both stirring, trying to awaken following their pleasurable, but afterwards painful, night, when they experienced what it means to be “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

(–Jonathan Edwards, early-18th-century Puritan preacher).


Israelite One, forenamed Rachem: Psst—Neighbor! Are you awake?

Israelite Two, forenamed Chotay: Oy. I have never ached so badly in my life. (Trying to sit up) I feel as if every bone in my body is broken. Did God lift me up to the mountain-top, and then, drop me?

Rachem: Are you in much pain, Friend? I see that Aaron and his sons are setting up a hospital tent near the Mishkan-Shrine—I can assist you to reach there, if you wish. I believe that my legs and arms work. (Feeling himself all over) Yes. Thank God, I’m fine. Nothing broken. I am a very, very lucky Reubenite. Grandfather always said we were tough, albeit unappreciated.

(He rises, slowly and achingly)

 Chotay: Aaron? Don’t mention that man’s name to me—HE’S the one who got us all into this fix. Imagine—a few raggle-taggle Egyptian refugees who came along with us after Pharaoh opened the sanitariums, were calling out, “Make us a Calf to worship, Aaron! We beg you, make us a calf! For as to this man Moses, we know not what has become of him.” Pah! It makes me achy and ill (just as I feel now) to see that man stalking about like a great leader, when his Golden Calf machinations got us into all of this trouble.

Rachem (trying to find humor in the Situation): Well, Friend, it appears as if God’s wrath spared your tongue from destruction, at least.

Chotay: What are you, a comedian? (Still lying on the ground, he balls up his fists) Just come over here, Jester, bend over me—slowly—and I will pummel you like an Edomite Warrior. Ow! Now, see what you’ve done to me?

Rachem: Oh, please, Friend, rest you easy. I am not going to fight you. I say there, Neighbor, can’t you stop complaining? At least, we survived. My good friend, Tall, Red-Haired Arad, who occupied the tent next mine with his wife Tzila and their family—I see a gigantic hole over there, nothing more. Poor people! I shall miss them, especially their eldest girl, Segula. Thank God that you live, still: it could have been a lot worse.

Chotay: Segula? Was she a blondish, petite sort of thing?

Rachem: Why, yes. Very pretty. Did you know her?

Chotay: Sort of. I mean, no. Never mind. You’re right: we must praise God for both good and evil. Ah, well (He stretches his arms and legs) Well, perhaps, despite my myriad wounds, perhaps God has spared my entire body, and we must—we must—

(He struggles to rise; Rachem goes over and assists him.)

 Ah! That’s better. Thank’ee, Friend. Well, he who orgies and lies down to play, may live to rise another day.

Rachem: Yes, yes—will you not strive to be un-sinful? And what must we do?

Chotay: Well, discuss and decide how this touchy Deity desires to be worshiped. Clearly, He did not wish to be enthroned on a Calf, that’s certain. I only wish that He had not chosen such a harsh, dangerous, and noisy manner in which to express His displeasure. Sermons from the Mount are one thing; pitching bolts at us innocent folks is quite another. And that second horror, where those bloodthirsty, armed-to-the-teeth Levites went crashing about, slaughtering guilty and innocent alike! And I always thought they were a peaceable tribe. Well, lust and learn, as my old Uncle Shochev used to say….

Rachem: Well, at least we were spared. That’s a blessing.

Chotay: Yes, but to what end? And where is Moses? We could use some prophetic guidance here, certainly. I hope that he’s not sulking in his tent.

Rachem: Did you take any notes when Moses was bellowing out the Commandments from the Mount? The Levites were distributing styluses and soft clay tablets before all the tumult began.

Chotay: No—but wasn’t that God doing the bellowing?

Rachem: Sometimes I get them confused. Oh, and please, Neighbor—try not to offend the Creator.

Chotay: Sorry (Calling up, towards Heaven). My Lord God, I am most heartily sorry! Please do not send down any more of Your lightning bolts, but deliver us from further, as-yet-unknown evil!

Rachem: Excuse me, Friend—what is your name? And what exactly were you doing, just now, screaming up to the clouds like that?

Chotay: Chotay is my name. And I wasn’t exactly screaming. I was—I was—asking our invisible God—and don’t think I am totally reconciled to the philosophical concept of an invisible god, mind you—I was asking God for a boon, a favor. That is, to preserve my life—and yours, although I do not know you. And the remains of our tough little community, here.

Rachem: Thank you, Friend Chotay. My name is Rachem. And I do admire your new method of attempting to reconcile with God. What shall we call it?

Chotay: Speaking to God? I thought that was something only Moses and, perhaps, Aaron, could do.

Rachem: Prayer! That’s it—that’s what we’ll call it. Praying to God.

Chotay: But what about the sacrifices? And the meal-offerings, and the incense? What about the Mishkan-Shrine?

Rachem: What about them? I am suggesting that we—you and I, and all Israel—simply speak to God, rather than barbecuing everything.

Chotay: Drop your voice, I cry you mercy, Good Neighbor Rachem! This is the sort of independent thinking that got us all smashed to bits by God’s lightning bolts, in the first place.

Rachem: Why, what have I done wrong? And whatever could be wrong with independent thinking? Hasn’t God given us free will?

Chotay: Well, we can discuss it, but don’t you think that speaking directly to God, without the assistance of a hereditary priesthood, is a bit subversive?

Rachem: Listen, Friend Chotay: you and I nearly lost our lives last night—either by means of Divine lightning, or vengeful Levites. Yes, my new method—prayer? Is that what you called it?—is subversive, but I am less than impressed by Aaron and his boys, and how they behaved during the Lightning Storm. I am for the People, not the Priesthood.

Chotay: It does seem like a good idea. Let me consider it.

Rachem: Do so; and we will discuss it, later, once our community has had a chance to collect itself. In the meantime, let us pick up the pieces. Perhaps the hospital-tent is a good place to start.

Chotay: Hmm—of course, why not? That bossypants Aaron is in charge there, as usual. I will assist, but don’t you prevent my giving him a piece of my mind! (Exeunt omnes)

Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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