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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash


It is in this parsha of Ki Tisa that the Hebrews, with Aaron's assistance, commit the grave offense of making the molten golden calf. This set of poems tries to imagine what led the Hebrews to this rash and radical decision which results in severe punishment.

I hope that over the next few minutes each of us is brought into that camp as Moshe is delayed on the mountain top.

"Gold, Gold!"

The camp should be quiet.

The day should be peaceful.

But a cloud of unease

has descended;

thick and gray

and vibrating .

The people mill about

loose and untethered,


A hum of anticipation is in the air.

The scuff of sandals

running through the camp.

Voices careen

from family to family.

the word "gold" repeats

in voices gruff,

sobbed and screamed.

"Gold! Gold!

Bring your gold!

From your ears,

Gold! Gold!"



Waiting for the night to end,

for the storm to pass.


for the cloud to lift.

Waiting for the surety

of what is known.

Waiting for trauma to heal

takes a toll.


for a man,

a leader,

their leader,

to descend from

a clouded mountaintop

with two carved tablets

seems an eternity.

The rhythmic metronome beat

of thousands of pulses.

All the while the people wait;

patiently at first.

Going about their business;

pretending nonchalance

Rumors scatter like skipping stones

person to person,

group to group.

Ripples spreading outwards

concentric circles of worry.

And they wait.

Sweaty hands folding,


Feet tapping,

nervous twitches,


Eyes dart swiftly

left and right,

up and down.

Blinking at the mountain.

Perhaps there are answers

waiting in the clouds?

And then

old nightmares



cracks in skin too thin.

Cracks reopened,

never healed.

Unwanted thoughts creep in.

Fears of the unknown

bubble up like

black mud under their feet

Terrors of being unmoored,



lost in a desert of fear.

One by one

they forgot the drill.

Lessons they thought

were learned

dissipated into the vapor


logic disappeared into the mist.

The clock ticks.

Each minute without him

coax new fears.

Hands sweat.

Tensions edge higher.

Words shoot out,

phrases uttered

cannot be undone.

Actions taken

without thought.

Base impulses

of the lips and the fists.

Action, reaction.

Waiting, waiting!

The incessant hum grows louder,

The cloud grows grayer.

The people more desperate

and the crowd steadily grows.

Tensions rise.

The rule of the mob is here.

"Gold, gold!"

Earrings ripped off ears.

Sweat, screams, laughter.

"Gold, gold!"

The fire rages,

the heat spreads,

faces redden,

demons of the past

control the moment

and around the camp

the words are heard,

"Gold! Gold!

Gold! Gold!"

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that fellow Moses—the man who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.”

Aaron said to them, “[You men,] take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”

And all the people took off the gold rings that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.

This he took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Exodus 32:1-4 Translation from Sefaria

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