Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sin of the Golden Calf

A drashah on 3300 years of golden calves - I will summarize for clarity

We see that the women of Israel gave their copper mirrors to the build the Kiyor, the basin from which the Kohen purified his hands and feet to enter the Holy Service.This copper was obviously very refined and pure or it couldn't have been useful as a mirror.

The men gave the gold to make the Golden Calf. According to medrash, Aharon through the gold in the fire and it emerged a fully formed calf and it breathed and even danced, as fully mobile as a live calf. They celebrated saying that this calf succeeded Moshe Rabbeinu.

The questions are:
1) How could people who had just experienced Matan Torah commit the sin of idol worship only 40 days after G-d had spoken to them directly?
2) If they thought Moshe was dead, why did they try to build a successor, rather than appoint someone else?
3) Was it the Erev Rav or the Jews who were to blame?
4) An idol can be nullified by breaking the nose. Why was this one ground to dust?
5) Why were the Leviyim chosen to exact the revenge?
6) Why did Moshe smash the Luchos because of this sin? Why didn't he just remind them of its precepts and demand that they do Tshuva?

Copper represents the service of mitzvos. The women were not required to learn Torah, so they purified their service of Mitzvos and invested that service into sanctifying the Mishkan.

Gold represents Torah learning. The men took possession of the gold and demanded that Aharon use it to replace their fallen Torah leader. He threw the gold into the fire and it emerged as a golden calf. The Torah learning took on a life of its own, not as Torah learning itself, but as a derech, a particular way of life that becomes habitual, and is sustained through some filtered method of Torah learning. It grows and lives quite independently of any leader, of any halacha or of any sense. It can be marginally justified in halacha (as shown by the many halacha justifications for the Golden Calf), but it creates a way of life that is totally opposite to the intent of the Torah.

The purpose of the Torah is to bring unity, achdus of the Jewish people. Shtick, derech, minhag or whatever other forms it takes, when used for promoting self importance, "us vs. them" mentality, "I would never eat their hechsher" "I would never daven there" "I wouldn't let their books in my house" "I would never let my daughter marry them" "I ...", it begins to live, breathe and even celebrate on its own. The person, Baal HaShtick thinks that he is just adding on to his derech, his Rebbe etc., just as they believed that the calf succeeded Moshe. But in reality, the Torah tells us that it is the opposite; it is tantamount to idol worship. It causes division and promotes self superiority, rather than unity, achdus.

That is why the Mefarshim attribute it to the Eirev Rav. Rav represents division and strife, as in Eisav's exclamation "Yesh li rav", I have many separate things, whereas Yaakov said "Yesh li kol", I have everything together. So they were a mixture (Eirev) of separate people (Rav) rather than a unified people. That is why it says that the Eirav Rav came up "with them", in other words not among them, but separate from them. So the Eirev Rav was the faction of the people who felt that their derech made them superior to rest of the Jewish people.

Therefore, the Leviyim had to destroy them. It says of the Leviyim that all of them were clean of the sin of the calf. This is shown by the very name, Levi, "This time my husband will accompany (Yelaveh) me". The name demonstrates that Levi represents unity and inclusion, which is the very opposite of the mentality of the golden calf.

Moshe did not stop at destroying the calf halachically, because it was no ordinary idol. It took on life force. It had to be ground to powder, completely without any of its previous substance. Such substance cannot grow the Jewish people, even in small measure.

Moshe then smashed the Luchos. He realized that this is what had become of their Torah learning. The Torah had to be regiven, effectively, because of the way they had chosen to use it. It had to be regiven this time, with reference to Teshuva and a fully prepared Teshuva. The Talmud says that every punishment meted out to the Jewish people contains a measure of punishment for the golden calf. That is because every sin of the Jewish people can be traced to this destructive, anti Torah trait.

I will return to my subject presently, but the golden calf evokes musar, even though present company is obviously not in need of such musar. I should direct it at those hareidim that think they are the only true Jews, or those nutty Chabadniks who think that they invented Rebbes and Moshiach, or those Misnagdim who only learn to pump up their own Rabbanus or those people over in that shul where I would never daven and never eat their food, or those people who go around with knitted yarmulkes, singing HaTikva or those ...


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  • I like your dvar torah.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:22 PM  

  • I'm shaking but joyously so - a very powerful discourse. What we have today does seem like a Frankenstein monster, with a life of its own. Just as you put it. Bravo.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:10 PM  

  • A voice here from the islands -
    You might like to hear a clear exegesis on Exodus without all the "hearsay".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:33 PM  



    Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 64a
    Soncino 1961 Edition, page 437

    Following the Mishnah is a discussion among the sages. One of the Talmud Sages, Rabbi Ashi, comments as follows:

    GEMARA. R. Ashi propounded: What if one caused his blind or sleeping son to pass through, (3) or if he caused his grandson by his son or daughter to pass through? — One at least of these you may solve. For it has been taught: [Any men … that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall he put to death … And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people;] because he hath given of his seed unto Molech. Why is this stated? — Because it is said, there shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire. From this I know it only of his son or daughter. Whence do I know that it applies to his son's son or daughter's son too? From the verse, [And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man] when he giveth of his seed unto Molech [and kill him not: Then I will … cut him off.]

    — Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 64b
    Soncino 1961 Edition, page 439

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:44 PM  

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