AIPAC, Netanyahu, Purim, and the Golden Calf

Forty five years ago I stood on the bimah and chanted this week’s Torah portion of Ki Tisa. I recall the jubilance of the day but sadly must admit I had no idea what I was reading. Oh, I knew the Hebrew words, but lacked the comprehension to actually internalize the meaning. Yes, I even read the English translation, but how could a 13-year-old appreciate the arrogance of those worshipping a golden calf? Was I expected to fathom Moshe’s ascension to a spiritual realm without need for water, food, or sleep? I’m older and wiser now and I still find the concept difficult to fathom.


I’m sitting on the plane returning from an amazing AIPAC conference which culminated in listening to the prime minister of Israel as he delivered a most powerful and important presentation to a Joint Session of Congress. So many thoughts went through my mind; questions that may remain unanswered. I should be exhilarated as I stood shoulder to shoulder with 16,000 supporters of Israel. I should be proud that Winston Churchill and Benjamin Netanyahu are the only world leaders to have been invited to address congress three times. I should be excited by the overwhelming bipartisan support for Israel. I should be thankful for the billions of aid Israel receives from the United States.


Indeed I’m trying hard to think positively, but one issue seems to be overshadowing all others. I just can’t understand how words of truth can be met with condescension and condemnation? How can the so-called pundits continue to pontificate on the ill-advised timing of Netanyahu’s address? How can otherwise intelligent people be so misguided and believe that Iran’s mullahs will honor their commitments? Are some elected representatives so obstinate that they ignore the reality of treaties signed with other rogue regimes? Are the historical realities of treaties signed by North Korea, Germany, and the Soviet Union so easily obliterated from their collective memories? I’m ignoring the Oslo accords as I would imagine even the signatories of the document had little faith in its viability to bring genuine peace.


It is uncanny that these historical events are taking place just in time for the Purim celebration and the reading of the Book of Esther. It’s the only festival that highlights the Iran of antiquity (Iran was still called Persia less than forty years ago). The players may have changed but their desire for the destruction of the Jewish people remains a steadfast component of their ideology. I remember reading that Julias Streicher, a Nazi war criminal, called out, “Purim fest 1946” moments before he was hung to death. I wait with bated breath for the evil regime in Iran to self-destruct and perhaps modify the phrase to, “Purim fest 2015”.


Finally, years after my bar mitzvah, I have a better grasp of the words in my Torah portion. I see that history rarely changes our profound ability to ignore reality and the ever present threats to our future. Thousands of years ago the Jewish people witnessed the supernatural. They saw God perform miracle after miracle: the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea of reeds, to name a few. They revered Moses as a leader and lauded him for delivering them from slavery to freedom. They trusted his abilities and never questioned or doubted his ascension to heaven to receive the commandments from God.


What happened? How did the tide turn 180 degrees? Well, He was late according to their calculations. In one fleeting moment, years of commitment and ideology were thrown out the window. A replacement theology was demanded. A golden calf with no merit other than its grandiose allure managed to displace everything that was sacred. They were willing to perpetuate a myth and dedicate their passion to their self-created entity. The gullibility of man has no second in nature; truth and fact are so easily dismissed. The masses are so easily swayed by popular opinion that they lose the ability to recognize insanity for what it is.  They are often willing to double down by replacing all that Moses stood for, even if it means dismissing his God.


Perhaps the golden calf mentality is resurfacing in our generation. Yes, Mr. Boehner may have acted impetuously by inviting Netanyahu without consulting the White House. Perhaps the prime minister should have been more politically sensitive. Yet as we look backwards we must use hindsight to gain an insight into tomorrow. Truth is an absolute that we cannot exchange or replace. Yes, truth may hurt sometimes. It may even cause sensitivities and egos to be ruffled, and for that an apology should be forthcoming. Yet truth is the fundamental principal of Judaism, and has always been an iconic motto of our United States of America. Our two countries have this ideal as our common purpose and philosophy. It is this pursuit that will eventually triumph and strengthen our bond. The seal of the United States and the seal of the almighty are both emet – truth.  May the seals of truth help bond the seal of friendship between our great nations.


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jack Engel


 PS: At the Passover Seder we proudly proclaim L’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalyim – Next year in Jerusalem. Indeed that vision should become a reality very soon. However those unable to fulfill their ultimate dream; perhaps the next best thing to say is: “next year at AIPAC”.  Please join your Anshei Emuna friends and stand united in support of Israel and the Jewish people.


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