What with the Arab world in a bit of a tizzy (a good tizzy), and the Republicans in a bit of a back to the 1950s tizzy, I’ve not been at my most Torah-centric — even though we’re at one of those pivotal moments in the text, i.e., the Golden Calf incident. We were going along so nicely in the narrative, receiving the Words from on high with nary a complaint and then, yowzer, do we go off the rails! Just because our leader has been up on the mountain for a whole bunch of days without tweet or email.
Anyhow, as a person who imagines my beloved has been run off the side of the road every time he’s more than 10 minutes late, I understand over-reaction. It makes you do crazy things. I understand Aaron’s impulse to channel the fear & longing into a nice, neat golden object, draw some boundaries around the pandemonium. And I understand God’s (admittedly over the top) peeve at this recently freed people.
If you’re interested in why people might step off the spiritual ledge, I’ve got a poem for that. But now, on to actual animals.
They come up late in the Torah portion, after the Israelites are caught with their pants down (read between the lines of the text) and Moses successfully pleads for their non-destruction. A second round of tablet construction begins. God promises to drive out the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites if the Israelites tear down their altars and smash their pillars. Also, no more molten gods. Also, remember Passover and Shabbat and 3 harvest holidays.
Also: You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.
Why, in the middle of this God/chosen-people rituals list does there appear an abbreviated goat recipe? Turns out – say archaeologists – that the practice is a local fertility ritual for the flocks and what-not. We, the chosen, are not to go down this particular road of magical thinking, but rather to simply behave as outlined in the aforementioned rules & regs — then there will be crops in their season, reproduction without end.
And what do we do with this simple prohibition (being an overreacting, over-achieving, often traumatized and looking for-a-way-to-feel-better kind of people)? We embroider. I quote a passage from Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Down to Earth Judaism:
Said God to Moses: “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk!” Moses replied, “You mean you don’t want us to make cheeseburgers? “Said God, mildly shocked and bewildered, “I just said — not a kid in the milk of its mother!” Moses frowned, twirled his beard, and responded, “You mean, don’t even use the same plates for cheese & meat?” God’s face reddened. “Just don’t boil a kid in the milk of its mother”! Said Moses, “My God! You mean we have to wait six whole hours after eating meat before we can have some milk?” God threw the Divine Arms wide into the Cosmos: “Have it your own way, Moses!” And so we do.
We joke in our house that Judaism is a religion made for an OCD people, with 613 rules and 613 minor details for each of them. Or maybe it’s the other way around: all those rules made us OCD over the centuries. Or maybe we’re just hedging our bets, hoping to stay safe. You never know when there’s going to be a golden calf moment again.