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Explanation after the calf


What can I say about the episode of the “golden calf” that hasn’t already been said?

We were scared. Impatient. Left by ourselves in the desert while Moses went to hang out with God up on the mountain for 40 days. Maybe even a little giddy from the whole adventure and not quite in our right minds. What to do when the entire world has been turned upside down? What to do once you’ve been delivered from slavery by a faceless God who speaks through plague & thunder, a cerebral Being with a particular attachment to order and law?

We lost it. Went a little wild. Behaved like the pagans, only more so. Really, what did God (and Moses) expect? We were – as this week’s poem explains – a lonely and unpracticed people.

The epigraph to the poem is No human can see me and live! — words spoken to Moses after he convinces God not to destroy the Hebrews for their lack of judgment & to try again with the tablets. To not give up when things got a little off-track. The last line in the poem, slightly altered, comes from from Karen Alkalay-Gut’s poem “Dividing”: all I know of love, I learned from your back. To my mind, these two quotes capture (and bookend) not only the episode of the calf, but human-divine interaction in general.

Existential wrangling. That’s all I’ve got for this week. Awaiting your thoughts.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 03/02/2010 10:26 am

    This is another wonderful blog, Sue. The poem you cite has a wonderful juxtaposition–human love, gleaned from the backside of God. How many biblical characters could relate to this image? I’d say, virtually all the the great figures whose words and deeds and sometimes thoughts are described by the biblical narrator. Virtually no one escapes an arduous journey.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      03/02/2010 12:32 pm

      Too true, Jim. Every biblical character – and many of us mere mortals – has a relationship with God, front and back. And thanks for the compliment!

  2. judith rose permalink
    03/02/2010 11:24 am

    This portion jumps off the page in color — bigger than life – cinematic with action, speeches and cast of thousands. In this context, ‘god at my back’ becomes the ‘backup’ — the artillery that comes just in time to save the day – to solidify, strengthen and support. But the word backup has great contemporary connotations. ‘back up and do over again’ – we were an impatient people – if we only knew – we would have waited.
    Today the word backup is used continually in reference to computers – back up so original is not lost. perhaps individuals need backups occassionally when they feel lost. in these ramblings – I’ve think i’ve got a poem:

    with god at my back
    need to do overagain
    duplicate for safety
    need to make sure not lost
    back up
    need to solidify and strengthen
    back up
    need support
    from god at my back

    • sue swartz permalink*
      03/02/2010 12:35 pm

      Yes, yes, fabulous. The expression I’ve got your back also comes to mind. Love the poem. Set it to music and you’ve got something between a rap performance and psalm. Send it out into the universe!

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