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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ki Tisa

Masks & Tasks

48
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The story of the Egel HaZahav, the Golden Calf in our Sedra is perplexing, to say the least. What exactly was the mind-set of those who worshipped this object? Most assume it was a form of idolatry, but if that’s true, why was the punishment given to the sinners so relatively mild?

The Torah offers a number of tantalizing clues throughout the sedra, all focusing on the idea of masks, or masking.

First, we learn about the giving of the half-shekel by all members of society. Four times in five p’sukim the word "kofer" in one form or another is used. While the usual meaning of kofer is "atonement," as in Yom Kippur, it can also mean "cover," as in "kaporet," the ornate cover for the Aron Kodesh.

Then, in the story of the Golden Calf, the pasuk (32:8) mysteriously refers to an "egel masecha." Huh?! Why use the word, "masecha?" While some translate masecha as "molten," we known it to usually mean "mask."

Later, when Moshe begs Hashem, "show me Your glory" – which chazal say is a desire to understand G-d’s sense of Divine justice – Hashem mysteriously answers, "no human being can see My face." He wears a mask?!

Finally, the parsha ends by telling us that Moshe indeed wore a mask, a mas’veh," at all times - except when he spoke to either G-d or the people.

What can all this mean?

As I write this dvar Torah, we are celebrating Purim, the holiday of masks, as well as dealing with the Corona crisis, may it soon be over for us all. I would like to suggest that masks have very different purposes. Some masks serve to disguise us, allowing us to hide behind a facade so that others do not recognize us. At times this can be constructive – as it was for Esther, who "masked" her true lineage until just the right moment – but it can also be destructive, if it serves only to fool others or lets us think that disguised, we can get away with something devious or illegal.

This was the "egel mask," which hid the fact that we lacked the self-confidence to connect to G-d on our own, without Moshe’s help. It masked our embarrassment, as we felt we needed a go-between to reach the Creator. We didn't worship the calf per se, we just felt helpless and inadequate to approach the true G-d.

But masks can also protect us from harm & make us safer, by giving us our own "space" & keeping us away from negative stimuli. Indeed, the "covers" that mask, or protect many of our sacred objects – the Torah, Tefilin, Mezuzot, the Aron, among others - suggest that G-d will protect us as well if we surround ourselves with holiness & observance of the Mitzvot.

There are times when we need to "unmask" & show our true selves, & times when we need to put on masks to increase our modesty & sense of kedusha. It all eventually comes down to refining our relationship with Hashem, in the hope that, at all times, He’s "got us covered."
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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