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Picking Up After A Crisis

Prior to the Golden Calf episode, God had given Moses detailed instructions about how the Tabernacle was to be constructed. Now, after the Golden Calf episode, the Tabernacle instructions are implemented. Now that the Lord and his people have resolved their differences, doubt and disobedience are replaced by willing cooperation and the Tabernacle building proceeds with enthusiasm.

Do you agree? Let's examine this claim more closely, in conversation with the Jewish sages who have pondered these Scripture verses.

Read Exodus 35:21-29. Notice its similarity to the words of an earlier Torah passage (i.e., before the Golden Calf episode):

“You shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved” (Exodus 25:2).

We find repeated in 35:21-29 this wonderful picture of community giving, do we not? Why then, do we find a Talmudic teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Pazi, saying, “Can we read these verses and not shudder?”[1]

What might cause an attentive reader to shudder, or to at least pause before affirming the favourable scene depicted by the text? Ponder and discuss this with a friend.

Our Rabbi continues, noting how the Torah records two instances of community giving:

On the one hand, when the people were asked to donate for the good purpose of the construction of the Tabernacle, the verse states: 'And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought…an offering of gold to the Lord' (Exodus 35:22). This indicates that only the generous among the people brought donations. On the other hand, when the people were asked to donate for the evil purpose of the Golden Calf, it states that not only the willing-hearted but: 'all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron' (Exodus 32:3). [1]

So perhaps we shudder to think that the energy being channelled into the present holy task was once directed to an idolatrous task. The memory of the Golden Calf, which involved "all the people" (32:3) in an enthusiastic pooling of gold jewellery, causes the sages to read the present Torah portion with caution. Even the description of each "willing-hearted" person is cause for pause... Were all the people involved this time in this act of giving, or only those whose hearts were moved?

Then again, perhaps you took a more optimistic message from the text, like that found in the Midrash where Israel is compared to a king’s daughter. She is a fair maiden but one day her face is sunburnt. In response to those who mock her, she confidently replies that with the appropriate care her fair complexion will return! So it is with Israel, reasons the Midrash. The people have been damaged, but they heal. Further, they turn the things (gold ornaments) used for sinful purposes into a means of making amends and giving glory to God. [2]

Ramban (12th century Torah scholar) concurs with this optimism. For Ramban, this is the whole point of the Torah’s repetition of construction detail: to indicate that while the Tabernacle building task remains the same as in previous Torah portions, the people (post-Golden Calf) are morally and spiritually in a very different place.

Do you agree? Contribute an insight of your own in lively discussion with a friend (see havruta-style learning).

Notice how traditional Jewish approaches to Scripture seek a holistic view of the sacred text. Each Torah portion tells a story that sheds light on a story in another part of the Bible, leading us to puzzle, ponder, and enter deeply into the mysteries of faith and life.

Think of a period in your life which was ‘interrupted’ by a major event/crisis. Afterwards, what was the same, and what was different? In what way had you changed?

1. Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 1:1. Cf. Leibowitz, 665 and online English translation of Talmudic texts at

2. Midrash Aggada, Terumah 26, quoted in Leibowitz, 667. ‘Midrash’ refers to Jewish storytelling traditions.

Bibliography: Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot (New York, 1996);

Scripture: JPS.

© Teresa Pirola, 2013. Reproduction for non-commercial use permitted with acknowledgement of website.


Light of Torah is a grassroots ministry arising from the Catholic community, encouraging Christians to reflect on Torah with the help of Jewish insights. More...

This week’s reflection concludes our journey through the Book of Exodus. Next week we turn to the Book of Leviticus. The reflection above refers to Parashat Vayakheil*, the Torah portion read for the coming Sabbath in the Jewish liturgical cycle. Shabbat shalom!

*Note: In 2021, a double portion is read: Vayakheil-Pekudei.

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