That’s a long aliya!

Last week I blogged about how long the Megilla is. This week it’s about how long the first two aliyot are!

Torah_ScrollIf you looked in this week’s Torah portion (Ki Tisa), you’ll have notice that the first two aliyot go on forever! If not, then be warned, the first two aliyot are extremely long. Is the Torah portion long this week? Well, yes, but that’s not the answer, the first two aliyot cover over two thirds of the entire Torah reading.

This seems like some kind of deliberate way of putting those who are not a Kohen or Levi on the sidelines, giving the lion-share of the Torah reading to the Kohen and Levi. Is that fair?

Let’s analyse the content of these two aliyot.
Though the first one is as long as the second, it is not so interesting. It is ‘only’ about creating things for the Tabernacle. The excitement only really begins in the second aliya. It is here that we read about the Golden Calf. We read how the Jews gave up on Moses returning from Sinai, creating and worshipping an idol. We read what happened when Moses came back down mountain, how he called all those who had been faithful to punish those who had not. The second aliyah ends when the shame and embarrassment of the Jews is over, and Moses is asking G-d to forgive the Jews. It seems that we are deliberately avoiding allowing an Israelite to be called up to this piece about the Golden Calf. This is especially apparent, as the aliyah ends as soon as the sin of the Golden Calf is over.

This is in fact exactly what is happening. We are avoiding giving an Israelite (myself included) an aliyah that contains the Golden Calf saga. Why should we do this?

Imagine you knew somebody who regularly committed certain crimes. He has since renounced such a lifestyle, and is living as a fine upstanding citizen. One day there is a major news story of somebody who has been caught, doing exactly what this person did. Would you feel comfortable discussing the events with them? How about if this person himself was a news sensation for their crime. Would you leave any information about that story lying around when you knew this person was going to visit? Surely you would hide away any reminder of this person’s previous crime.

When we read this week’s Torah portion, we are reading of a terrible sin committed by the Jewish people. A mere forty days after receiving the Torah, they turn to idol worship. What could have done worse?! After renouncing such actions and returning to where they were previously, do you think any Jew wants to hear about this story again?

Golden_CalfWell, it is in the Torah, it is something for us to learn from, and we read it every year. It is not the most pleasant piece to read, and we do not really want to call up someone who might be offended by this misdeed.

Who can we turn to if all the Jews participated in this misdeed? When Moses came down from Sinai, what was his call to arms? ‘Those who were true to G-d, those who did not commit idol worship, should join with me.’ Who stepped forward? The entire tribe of Levi. Not one Levite committed this misdeed, they all remained true to their faith. If so, it is only fitting that a Levite be given the story of the Golden Calf, so as not to remind those who failed in the past of their failings.

This is absolutely amazing! We worry about the shame of the descendants of something that happened over three thousand years ago! This shows just how far we must go to protect the feelings of others.