Saturday, March 14, 2009

The "Sin Of The Golden Calf," Who's Really To Blame?

This week's Parshat Shavua, Torah Portion of the Week, is Ki Tisa, (Exodus 30:11-34:35.) It's a very powerful one which includes one of the best known Biblical stories, the "Sin of the Golden Calf."

During today's שיעור נשים Women's Torah Class, which was given by our neighbor, Rabbi Tzuriel Weiner, we were challenged to think about what happened and why. Being that it was Shabbat, I could't take notes. I may write more about it in the future, since so many thoughts went through my head, and I had to control myself from dominating the discussions.

Of course today wasn't the first time I studied this "Parsha," Torah Portion, but for some reason, today my mind saw it very differently.

The discussion began with the question of whether Moshe's breaking of the "Tablets of the Testimony" was right or wrong. I think that Moshe did the correct thing. He did something dramatic to grab the attention of the people, to shock them. If he had waited for G-d to react, G-d would have destroyed them. Moshe immediately took charge. He was the leader.

Today I was very understanding of the children of Israel's sin. Just forty days after their oath to G-d, "Na'aseh v'Nishma," "We will do and we will listen," they hadn't been ready to have been left by Moshe.

I was brought back in time to my NCSY days, and I thought of that moving Havdallah, end of Sabbath ceremony, at the 1967 National Convention, when Rabbi Pinchas Stolper's words touched something in my soul. I was standing with a friend, and we seemed equally affected. But I went on to adopt a Torah-observant life, and she didn't. And it was hard enough for me, because I didn't receive the immediate follow-up and support I needed. Maybe the rabbis and advisers didn't take me seriously. Maybe their time and energies were stretched too thin to find room for me. Maybe everyone thought that someone else was doing it.

Baruch Hashem, as I searched and struggled, another friend joined the quest, and that was the key. I wonder how many Jews are lost because of insufficient follow-up.

And I thought of the struggling and confused Jewish People, so recently escaped from slavery in Egypt and all the traumas. And then they were so terrified at Mount Sinai when G-d began presenting them with the Commandments, that they had to beg to get them in a gentler way.

They needed Moshe with them. He needed to train the next level of leadership. His brother Aaron wasn't capable of substituting for him.

Today I felt sorry for the people, and I felt sorry for Aaron thrust into a position he couldn't handle. And Moshe was just obeying G-d's instructions. And I guess that G-d had trusted that the people and Aaron could handle it. Yes, sometimes G-d challenges us and we succeed, and sometimes we fail.

4 comments:

Ariel ben Yochanan said...

B"H

The Golden Calf episode probably is more relevant to us now than in any other period of our national history. Why? Because today we are a people re-possessing and re-settling Eretz Israel, our G-d given, Holy Land and there are two ways we can do it, the right Torah way and the wrong way. As we are currently doing it the wrong way it is essential that we correct ourselves, and the first step to tsuva is to recognize that there is a problem, by raising the issue: our leaders don't lead us and our rabbis are silent or corrupt as well. Hashem removed the tzadikim from our midst and we are on our own, left alone to choose between right and wrong: a separation mechanism put into place, hopefully, before the redemption, bezrat Hashem.

So, in this context, what the Golden Calf episode has to teach us? Very simple. That when the Jewish people loose sight of the framework of their divine mission, that is the "we will do and we will understand" principle, they will stray away and sin. What is implied? That the Jewish "political" power-structure is of a "from up to down" type, whereas Jews who loose this prospective will adopt and practice the nations' "from down to up" power flow, a Hellenistic, democratic type system, demos meaning people and cratos power - in Greek. Jews supposed to believe in Hashem-power. That's why Moshe's battle cry is: .."Whoever is for Hashem, join me!" (Exodus 32:26) If we are for Hashem, we have to join Moshe and if not, well, the Golden Calf. The democratic process supported by the voting of many Jews today, is a Golden Calf. Or, the other way round, the Golden Calf is not just an object to be burned, ground, solved in water and then drank, but a way of operating that allows people's decisions to override that of Hashem. As Jews we should fight this in every way we can. Understanding a sinning individual is one thing, justifying a sinning nation is another.

Batya said...

Ariel, thanks, good points
The key is leadership.

Anonymous said...

Batya, I just found your blog and you write beautifully and from the heart. Your post about the golden calf really spoke to me. Yes, the key is leadership, but today the Jewish community is so very fragmented that even the leaders are frustrated. We, the people, can't sit back and wait for leadership. We need to be like Nachshon ben Aminadav and go forward. For this reason I wrote the book "Putting Out the Fire" to teach and encourage other Jews to reach out to others. As you posted, you almost slipped through the cracks due to lack of follow up. All Jews must take a share in kiruv! In the book, I list 100 ideas for people to get involved. Some are simple things that take very little time, others are very time consuming, but more personally rewarding. People can read sample chapters and order it online from www.KiruvBook.com.

Also, for those who want to meet others (mostly non-professionals) who are getting active in kiruv, check out and join www.KiruvCafe.com which I started after my book came out to enable people to help each other reach out and follow up!

Thanks for the chance to share this information and keep up the great work, Batya!

Batya said...

Aharon, thank you so much. That Shabbat shiur totally turned around my views. Many times in Jewish history, we've lacked suitable leadership.

Your book sounds extremely important. Tizkeh l'Mitzvot!