"And the Oscar goes to . . ."
|Today's Golden Calf?|
These words kept many of us on the edge of our seats this weekend, as the Academy Awards celebrated the finest artistry in the major motion picture industry. Together, we lifted up the contributions of the arts, allowing ourselves to remember how art can move us, comfort us, disturb us, help us find perspectives that we have never before seen. It is not at all about the money, power, pageantry, scandal, and fashion that seem to be bigger than life, right?
It's fitting that the Oscars coincided with our portion Ki Tisa this year, as we see the contrast between valuing artisanship and making art into a false idol. We read about the craftsmanship of Bezalel, the artist, who completes the finer elements of the Mishkan - the Tabernacle - in which the Holy of Holies is housed. Bezalel's artwork, as prescribed by God, is there to adorn and complement the holiness of its setting, to move those who behold it, not to become the focal point itself. I can only imagine that beholding its beauty would be awe-inspiring, helping us to feel the importance of the space in which it is placed.
|Was this dinky thing REALLY worth it?|
On the other hand, Ki Tisa also relates the crafting of the golden calf. Another piece of art that the Israelites create while Moses is away receiving Torah from God. This sculpture serves the opposite purpose of Bezalel's works - the calf is the center, it becomes bigger than life. I'm sure it too must have been an awe-inspiring sight, but one that inspired the worship of money, power, pageantry, and scandal. This golden calf became a focal point for the community - diverting their attention away from what was important in their lives, instead filling their attention with a wasteful emptiness. And what were they filled with? A competitive drive to lift this creation of their own hands over and above the One God who created us all - the Israelites wished for their idol to be the champion, the winner, of the pageantry of divine worship.
Now, I love the Academy Awards, especially after living in Los Angeles for five years. But reading these words of Torah as I prepared to celebrate the art of motion pictures certainly has offered me a different perspective on this spectacle. I could not help but think about the comparison of these Oscar statuettes and the golden calf. Our society's emphasis on winning has taken what could be a true nod to the craft of acting and directing and costume design and the potential for what art can inspire in each of us, and instead can become empty icons of status and popularity. So many of these performances and movies are worthy of celebration for the ways they move us, make us think, give us hope, and inspires us to change the world. We sacrifice our opportunities to see the deeper gifts that art offers us when we allow the pageantry to become the center, the definition, the height of artistic achievement.
The Academy Awards happen to be the timely victim of my Ki Tisa message, but we have to be aware that as humans we have a tendency to create our own golden calves. We allow the objects of our artisanship to become bigger than life, and ends of themselves. Doing so only tears us away from our opportunities to find holiness in our world. Instead, if we allow our crafts to express and complement our values, to unlock our imaginations, and to inspire us towards meaningful ways to improve our world, our relationships and our lives, we can all experience the gifts of art - even more so than the Oscar winners from this weekend.
- Rabbi Ari N. Margolis
Parashat Ki Tisa 5773