Learning for Jewish Life
Level 2 Curriculum Core
Torah Lesson 8.1
Parashat Ki Tisa:
The Israelites and the Golden Calf
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InParashat Ki Tisa,we read the famous story of the golden calf. Feeling left alone in the desert by Moses (who had gone up to Mount Sinai to receive further instructions from God), the Israelites lose faith in their leader and in God and construct a golden calf as an alternative focus of worship. Did the Israelites really intend, as most of our teaching suggests, to replace the God of Israel with a golden calf? Probably not, according to Rabbi Gunther Plaut: “A closer look reveals that idolatry in the strict sense is not involved. The people were leaderless since Moses had left them, and his prolonged absence created great anxiety amongst them. He had been their visible contact with the invisible God, and it was such a con-tact they craved as reassurance that they were not forsaken.”1
The Torah recounts, however, the great anger exhibited by God and Moses toward the Israelites for their apparent faithlessness. In this lesson, students will explore the events of this story as reported in the Torah and will consider the questions of justifiable anger and alternative approaches to problem solving.
• Torah is an ongoing dialogue between the text and its students. • Torah is real in our daily lives; it is with us wherever we are.
• Developing the skills to study Torah is essential to integrating Torah into our lives.
1. What does the Torah have to say to me and my world? 2. Why is the Torah different from other books?
3. How can Torah study help me in my everyday life?
Parashat Ki Tisa: The Israelites and
the Golden Calf
1. What happened after the Israelites left slavery in Egypt? 2. Why did the Israelites make the golden calf ?
3. Why do God and Moses get angry at the Israelites?
4. Are there alternatives to dealing with anger, and are there times when anger is the appropriate response?
• Students will demonstrate their knowledge of the incident of the golden calf in Parashat Ki Tisa by completing the “You Tell the Story” worksheet.
• Students will propose alternative solutions when presented with problems from the golden calf story.
• Set Induction (10 minutes) • Ki Tisa Timeline (5–10 minutes) • You Tell the Story (10 minutes)
• Solving Problems a Different Way (15–20 minutes) • Conclusion (5 minutes)
• Problem Cards (page 7) • Letter to parents (page 5) • You Tell the Story! (page 6) • The Ki TisaTimeline (page 8)
Berman, Melanie, and Joel Lurie Grishaver. My Weekly Sidrah. Los Angeles: Torah Aura Publications, 1986, pp. 78–80.
Steinbock, Steven E. Torah: The Growing Gift. New York: UAHC Press, 1994.
The purpose of this set induction is to help the students understand why God was so angry at the Israelites for making the golden calf. Later in this lesson, the students will consider different approaches to solving problems based on events in this Torah portion.
1. Ask the students if they know the Passover story that we read each year in the Haggadah. Guide them through a simple retelling or invite the students to tell the story. (A long, long time ago, the Israelite people—the name the Jewish people were called back then—were living in Egypt and the king, who was called Pharaoh, made them slaves. After hundreds of years of suffering in slavery, God sent Moses and his brother Aaron to tell the Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free so they could worship God. When Pharaoh didn’t listen, God sent ten plagues that made life miserable for the Egyptians, and finally Pharaoh let the Israelites leave Egypt. They fled across the Sea of Reeds (sometimes called the Red Sea), where they thanked God for their freedom.)
2. Ask the students how they think the Israelite slaves must have felt when they were freed by God from slavery in Egypt. Write their one- or two-word answers on the blackboard or flip chart under the heading, “How the Israelites Felt.”
3. Tell the students to think about a time when someone did something wonderful for them. Ask them to share how it made them feel, and write those words on another part of the blackboard or flip chart under the heading, “How I Felt.”
4. Compare the lists and be sure the students note the similarities and the differences.
Timeline (5–10 minutes)
1. Distribute the Ki TisaTimeline on page 8. Explain to the students that these are the things that hap-pened after the Israelites left Egypt.
2. If student volunteers can comfortably read the text in the blocks, ask them to do so. Otherwise, you can read aloud and the class can follow along.
3. Ask the students the following questions for group discussion:
• Why do you think the Israelite people were scared and nervous when Moses was gone a long time? • Was making the golden calf a good or a bad decision? Why?
You Tell the Story (10 minutes)
1. Distribute copies of the “You Tell the Story!” worksheet on page 6. Read the story aloud to the stu-dents and ask them to fill in the blanks.
2. When the students have finished, ask volunteers to read the story out loud to be sure that everyone has the correct answers (Egypt; Mount Sinai; golden calf; golden calf; golden calf; Ten Commandments; Moses; Ten Commandments).
3. Ask if anyone knows the answer to the CHAI Bonus Question (the Jewish people).
Solving Problems a Different Way (15–20 minutes)
1. Divide the students into three groups of about three or four students. Copy the Problem Cards from the template on page 7 and give one card to each group. Ask the students in each group to read their card and to think about a better or different way to solve the problem presented in the parashah. The students should write at least one alternative solution on the back of the Problem Card. For the first card, for example, alternative solutions include: Moses could have told the people how long he was going to be gone; Moses could have asked God to reassure the people because they were getting nervous; Moses’ brother Aaron could have tried to calm the people; the Israelites could have remembered that they were slaves in Egypt for many years, so they could wait for Moses a little longer; etc.
2. Have each group read its Problem Card and the alternative solution to the class.
(Note: If the class is large, make additional copies of the Problem Cards and allow more than one group to work on each card.)
Review with the students the dramatic story they learned about today: how God was so angry at the Israelites for making and praying to a golden calf after God had freed them from slavery in Egypt. Ask the students if they think there is ever a time when it’s right to be angry. Do they think that God was right to be angry in this case? Remind the students about the work they did to come up with ideas to solve the problems on the Problem Cards and ask them to think about how they can figure out good solutions to problems in the future. Send home the letter to parents on page 5.
Today we studied the story of the golden calf, which is found in Parashat (Torah portion) Ki Tisa in the Book of Exodus. We learned about how nervous and afraid the Israelite people felt when Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive further instructions from God, and was gone for a long time. We looked at the Israelites’ response to their fears—the building of and praying to the golden calf— and we talked about God’s extreme anger at the people for what they did. Finally, we looked at some other aspects of the story and we worked on coming up with alternative solutions to differ-ent problems. Our goal was to understand that on a human level, there are momdiffer-ents when anger is justified, but that we also have the ability to help find solutions to the problems we may
As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments you would like to share about our studies.
CHAI: Learning for Jewish Life
You Tell the Story!
Complete the story by filling in the missing words from the list below.
You may use words more than once.
God made Pharaoh free the Israelites from slavery in
____________. Moses led the people to the desert, where they
set up camp. Moses went up to ___________ to meet with God
and get further instructions. While Moses was gone, the people
became scared and nervous, so they made a ___________ to
pray to because they couldn’t see God or Moses and they could
see the ____________. This made God very angry because the
people had been told to never pray to other gods.
When Moses came down the mountain and saw the people
dancing around the ____________, he got so angry that he
threw down the instructions God had given him for the people.
These instructions are called the _____________.
God was so angry about the behavior of the Israelites that God
wanted to destroy them, but ________ begged God to forgive
them. Finally God agreed, and Moses brought down a new set
of the ____________ for the people to obey.
CHAI Bonus Question:
What is the name of the Israelite people today?
Copy the template, cut along the dotted lines, and paste each card to an
Moses went up to the mountain for
a long time. The Israelites became
scared and nervous because he was
gone so long.
The Israelites made themselves a
golden calf to pray to, which made
God and Moses angry.
Aaron, the brother of Moses, helped
the Israelites with the golden calf
because he didn’t want the people to
be angry at him.