Holy Scribbles: Parashas Ki Tisa 5781 – Gold Dust
An often neglected nuanced understanding, in regard to the debacle of the golden calf is as follows: after grinding the golden molten metal calf into dust, Moses throws the dust particles into the water; additionally, he compels the people to drink this. Why? Later in the accounts given in Torah, we learn the reason. This has to do with the sotah – the unfaithful wife who is put to the test, in regard to her innocence. She is compelled to drink water that has a little bit of earth, plus the erased letters of a written punishment if she is guilty of adultery. These words that make up the judgment include G-d’s name; yet, the name of G-d is also erased along with the rest of the passage. If she is guilty, the written curse will be supernaturally enacted.
This procedure is akin to the measures that Moses took, after grinding the golden calf into powder. Israel was guilty of adultery, in a certain sense, as well as idolatry, because to turn away for G-d to another god is a form of adultery. Elsewhere throughout kitvei kodesh (holy scripture), Israel is compared to a wayward wife, essentially an adulteress, because she turned towards all sorts of other gods. Recompense is made for Israel, when they turn back towards H’Shem (literally, “the Name”), thus effectively ending the separation.
This same parallel can be found in our own lives as well, for when we turn away from G-d, whether through neglect of our duties, indifference, or outright sin, a chasm opens up between us and Him. “Your iniquities have been a barrier between you and your G-d, your sins have made Him turn His face away” (Isaiah 59:2, JPS 1985 Tanach). Although we are not made to drink bitter water, the result of our negligence has the effect of bringing bitterness into our lives, until we reconcile ourselves to G-d.