The WORD – 3/9/12. It has been well over a week since radio personality Rush Limbaugh started his multi-day insult-fest directed toward Sandra Fluke – the Georgetown law student and political activist. Regardless of how one feels about her politics or her tactics, Limbaugh clearly stepped over a line in his verbal attacks on her. According to some media accounts, Limbaugh called her derogatory names no fewer than 70 times over the course three days. He was not challenging her assertions. He was not critiquing her argument. He was simply calling her names.
It brought to mind the mess that Don Imus made a few years ago when he used derisive language in discussing the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Imus took a huge financial hit then, and it seems as if Limbaugh is experiencing a similar hit now. It will be interesting to see how Limbaugh withstands this controversy and if he will be as influential in the future as he has been in recent years.
I was thinking about this controversy as I read this week’s portion, Ki Tissa, in which we read the story of Aaron and Golden Calf. I hope that God will forgive me for comparing Rush Limbaugh to Aaron, but there are some parallels in the stories.
In the absence of Moses, who was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah, Aaron was left in charge of the restless Israelites. The Israelites came to Aaron and said, “Ah’se la-nu Elohim (Ex. 32:1)” which is most often translated as, “Make a god for us.” But, “Elohim” is also one of the names for THE God. So, it is possible to read their request as, “Make God for us.” So, Aaron tried as best he could. The result was the Golden Calf – which incensed God and Moses.
How is it, then, that Aaron could be the High Priest despite his part in this rebellion? Moses smashed the tablets and had to go up on the mountain for another 40 days. Already, Moses was denied entry into the Land of Israel as a result of hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Yet, Aaron seems to receive no punishment for aiding and abetting the Israelites in their construction of the Golden Calf.
Our ancient sages – as always – had a solution to this apparent problem. They teach us that Aaron’s overriding principle in life was to make peace among people. He would walk through the camp of the Israelites listening for quarrels. When he heard one, he would immediately intercede and settle the issue between the two parties.
Similarly, Aaron agreed to make the Golden Calf because he sought to make peace until Moses could return. His goal was to quiet the fears of the people, not to undermine God’s authority. Thus, we learn that the pursuit of ‘shalom‘ – peace – is a guiding principle of Judaism. This applies to peace in our homes, in our offices, in our communities and among nations. Sure, Aaron messed up, but he messed up in pursuit of peace.
And that’s where shock jocks like Limbaugh fall short. They use their positions of influence to divide and to pit one segment of our society against another. Hopefully, we as a society can be smart enough to ignore them and find the people who would unite us rather than divide us.
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