The Seductive Shine of Fool’s Gold…

The episode of the golden calf in Ki Thissa, this week’s Torah portion has to be the mother of all morality tales. In a nutshell, while waiting impatiently under harsh desert conditions for Moses to descend from Mt. Sinai with his message from God, the Israelites lose it and persuade Moses’ brother, the High Priest Aaron to sanction the creation of a golden idol that can serve as a focus for their passions, religious and otherwise. Kosher, this is not. And when Moses does finally show, he is not best pleased. In shock at this mass betrayal of his people and his brother, he drops the Tablets of the Law which shatter upon impact. According to a rabbinic legend in the Babylonian Talmud, when the tablets were broken, the letters of the Commandments flew back to Heaven. The Israelites were then plagued with a plague as a token of God’s displeasure. Moreover, they were condemned never to reach the Holy Land; only the next generation would do so. Which tells us that wisdom, even Divine, may be glimpsed, but until the designated recipient(s) are fully awake and aware, may not be completely received.

Every time I read this parashah, I wonder about the metaphoric presence of a golden calf in my own life; what values or ideals have I focused on that were not worthy of my humanity? Too many to list here. Yet at these times, I find my thoughts vacillating between understanding Moses’ profound anger and understanding why the people of that first generation of Israelites needed that infamous symbol of all they had left behind in Egypt. While Moses’ mission was to establish a monotheistic religion, his people were making it clear that old habits, particularly bad ones notoriously dog our best intentions for change, both in ourselves and by extension in our environment. Which made the recent events in modern day Egypt so astoundingly ironic. The Egyptian people living under a long-term dictatorial regime, didn’t need a golden calf to effect a change that will mark their place in history, only the united desire to be a free and democratic people. Indeed, they have come full circle and have overthrown their own Pharaoh.

Illustration from: Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009)

Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) may be purchased here: or here: Amazon:

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4 Responses to “The Seductive Shine of Fool’s Gold…”

  1. Rima Says:

    Hello Irene, very happy to discover you have a blog! I came across your wonderful work first on a postcard given me by Ellen and Delia, and was delighted to find this place from your message on Terri’s blog.
    Really fantastic paintings you make, thoroughly up my street!
    I shall be back 🙂
    All good wishes to you


    • Ilene Winn-Lederer Says:

      Hello Rima,
      Thanks for your kind note!
      Yes, I suspect we are fishing
      mates at the shores of the
      Stream of Consciousness.
      I love your work, too; first saw
      it a year or so ago from a link
      @ Terri’s blog.


  2. firesurvivors Says:

    I clicked on your site from the forum about spam. I am having the same problem with the same urls. I contacted the companies and their e-mail addresses are not valid, therefore they must not be a valid site. I am happy I stumbled on your site because I am an artist and I enjoyed the illustrations.


    • Ilene Winn-Lederer Says:

      Thank you for visiting. Like an annoying rash, referrer spam is here to stay, I’m afraid, but keep on tracking them. The only good they do is to make us appreciate the real hits so much more.


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