Comfort Object – Parshat Ki Tissa 5778 – Rabbi Eve Posen
As a new parent I had mixed feelings about “lovey” usage in our house. I myself was a lovey kid. In fact I still like to hold my old Snoopy whenever I’m home in Detroit, and I feel an immediate sense of calm. Selfishly, I didn’t want to be responsible for looking for and keeping track of a precious stuffed animal day and night. I had nightmares about it getting lost at school or leaving it on an airplane or in a restaurant, never to be seen again. I was adamant against a lovey.
Of course I quickly saw that Shiri had an attachment to one particular blanket material animal and knew we were going to be a lovey family. One secret (don’t tell Shiri) that eased my mind was having two identical loveys: one lives at school, the other at home, and they’re never seen in the same place.
When the world feels out of control, when things just don’t feel safe, children want their lovey to bring them back to calm. Whether it’s a tangible object or a mantra we repeat, it is human nature to have something that brings us calm and connects us to our most patient self. The Israelite nation is no exception. This week we read Parshat Ki Tissa from within the story of the Exodus. The Israelites are in the desert, they have received the 10 Commandments, and they are now set to continue on their journey, learning from Moses and God. Moses is on top of the mountain, and he is delayed in coming down. The Israelites are scared, unsure of this God that they have yet to trust. They gather their gold, make an idol, and turn their attention to something tangible.
The Israelites needed comfort. They needed their lovey. Moses, the only leader they have ever known, the one who has the connection with God and who took them out of Egypt, is gone. They have no tangible, physical way of understanding that God is with them. They badly need to know that there is something that grounds them, keeps them connected, and so they remember in Egypt the power of gold and idols. Hence, the golden calf is built. Despite the emotion of the moment, it wasn’t out of malice or anger or even rebellion that they built it. They simply needed a physical connection to God, and this was the only way they knew how to do it.
In my case, my “lovey” is ritual. I find myself most comfortable living a life of routine and regularity, which is perhaps part of what has always drawn me to the yearly cycle of Jewish tradition. Hearing the melody of the Kiddush for a holiday or singing Yedid Nefeshon erev Shabbat puts my heart and soul into a calm, cool, and collected place.
Parshat Ki Tissa reminds us that for better or worse we crave familiarity. May our lesson be to recognize this need so that when it is in fact time to step out of our comfort zones, we’re ready.