Rachel Peck

Israel-Gaza War 5784: Ki Tisa – First the Idol, Then the Plague

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we read of the well-known incident of the golden calf. The people, anxious because of Moses’ long absence, demand that Aaron make a god to go before them; this, despite having just experienced the miracles of the Reed Sea and Mount Sinai.

Why? The Torah says, Vayar ha-am ki voshesh Moshe, “the people saw that Moses was delayed…” (Exodus 32:1)

A member of my Torah study group, using the Everett Fox translation of the Five Books of Moses, noted that Fox’s translation is “the people saw that Moses was shamefully late”; voshesh means not only delayed but to act shamefully. My study partner pointed out that newly freed slaves, relying on this powerful leader who channeled G-d’s miracles and freed them, would experience extreme anxiety at his absence. Moreover, they would be angry, hence their characterization of his long absence as being shamefully late.

Perhaps they were also ashamed of themselves, of their fear and dependency. It is a normal human characteristic to project shame and other unpleasant emotions onto other people.

The people then strip themselves of the gold earrings the Egyptians gave them to hasten their departure after the deaths of all Egyptian firstborn. Gold jewelry makes the wearer feel beautiful and dignified, but these people are feeling neither beautiful nor dignified. When Aaron casts a golden calf from the earrings, they declare, “This is your god, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:8)

G-d then directs Moses to hurry back to them, “for your people have wrought ruin” (Fox) or “become corrupt” (Artscroll, Exodus 32:7). These are two translations of the Hebrew text, which reads, ki shikhet amkha. But the literal translation is, “for your people has destroyed.” Destroyed what?

On Mount Sinai, they were told, “I am Hashem your G-d…There shall not be unto you other gods…” (Exodus 20:2-3) This is the first of the Ten Commandments given on the mountain.

Sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, the Ten Commandments establish a covenant between G-d and the children of Israel. He alone will be their G-d, and they will be his people, beloved and protected. By worshiping a cast image and calling it a god, the people have destroyed the basis of this covenant. Because of this, G-d sends a plague upon the people (Exodus 32:35).

Palestinian intellectuals have said that Gaza has become a symbol of Palestinian shame. Was Hamas projecting shame and rage onto Israel on October 7th? Certainly that rage was on full display that day. And the rapes and mutilations were an ugly displacement of shame onto the victims.

Hamas claims to follow Allah, but perhaps its members are actually following a “god” of their own creation. A golden calf. This god demands that Jews and Christians be killed or subjugated, and that any land that once was ruled by Muslims belongs to them in perpetuity and can never be ceded to non-Muslims. Thus their refusal of a two-state solution, a Jewish and Palestinian state side by side. Thus their murder-fest on October 7th, with the promise of more to come. Thus their total unconcern with the deaths of their fellow Muslims in Israel’s response.

“Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes,” reads the Slogan of the Islamic Resistance Movement in the 1988 Hamas Charter. The charter goes on to say: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

On October 7th, Jews hid behind stones and trees, in bomb shelters and safe rooms, in portable toilets and sewage pipes. And the Hamas murderers came and killed them.

They killed not only Jews, but also foreign workers who were Christians or Buddhist or Hindu. They killed 21 Israeli Muslims. They exceeded even their own charter, destroying both people and property.

By this destruction, they brought a plague upon their own people. Almost 30,000 killed (including about 12,000 fighters) and 70,000 injured are the latest numbers from Gaza. Gazan women, children, and elderly sleep in tents in the open air while Hamas fighters shelter in tunnels they do not permit civilians to enter. Civilians fight each other for whatever food Hamas fighters do not confiscate. Hunger and sickness stalk the land. The hospitals are overwhelmed. This is the fruit of Hamas’ golden calf idol.

Jews are not alone in following the siren call of the golden calf. But we are also not alone in returning to the one true G-d. We hope that one day those who follow the idolatry of Hamas do the same and remove the plague from their people, and Israel’s.

About the Author
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in the suburbs, but now reside in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. I am a retired editor and proud Zionist. I can also be found at
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