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Parshas Ki Sissa


All that's Gold does not Glitter
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

"This people has committed a grievous sin and made a golden calf" Shemos 32:31

Cheit Ha'Eigel, the sin of the golden calf, was our first national tragedy and remains one of the biggest stains in the fabric of our history. How was it possible that so soon after receiving the Torah, the Jewish People could transgress the cardinal sin of idolatry? At Har Sinai they proclaimed "Na'aseh V'Nishma" and reached the pinnacle of perfection - comparable to the melachim, angels. Yet just forty days after Matan Torah they had sunk so low.

The Ramban explains that their intention was not to create a god - a being that has control over life and death. Rather, they sought an intermediary between themselves and Hashem. Moshe Rabbeinu had led them out of Egypt and guided them along the way. The Bnei Yisrael understood that he was only a shaliach, an agent of Hashem. But now that the time for Moshe's return from the Heavens had apparently passed, they sought a replacement. They needed a new leader to direct them in their service of Hashem.

HaRav Yerucham Levovitz z”tl, Mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, gives a deeper insight. He explains that an integral part of our service to Hashem is encapsulated in the concept “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi tamid” - recognizing that we are constantly in Hashem’s presence. However, this is difficult to accomplish. It is tempting to think that a physical representation of the Divine might be the powerful aid needed in order to achieive this level of recognition. This representation might also help to overcome the feeling that the distance between Hashem and us is so great that we can never bridge the gap and approach Him directly. In short, an intermediary could serve as a first step in the gradual process of drawing close to Hashem. This was the purpose of the golden calf.

This approach to avodas Hashem (Divine service) is not foreign to the Torah. On the contrary, there are mitzvos where we deliberately employ a physical object to remind us of Hashem and draw us nearer to Him. One example is tzitzis. The t’cheiles (blue-like) strings resemble the sea which is similar to the sky and the sky in turn resembles the Kisei HaKavod (Heavenly throne). Through the tzitzis we visualise the Kisei HaKavod and are ultimately drawn nearer to Hashem. Since, we cannot approach the Heavenly throne directly, we do so in steps - the tzitzis points us in the right direction. We can also come close to Hashem through the Beis HaMikdash. Although Hashem is not limited to any place, when we focus on Him in that location, we are drawn nearer to Him.

Even though this is an acceptable method in avodas Hashem, there is an important condition- we may only rely on images sanctioned by the Ribbono Shel Olam. When we ignore this condition and form our own images, no matter how pure our intentions, there is a danger involved as our action is without Hashem’s consent. This is exactly what occurred with the golden calf.

Although the majority of the nation remained faithful to Hashem, there were some who came to actually worship the eigel - alas, with tremendous enthusiasm. All those guilty of true idol worship were punished - killed at the sword of the Levi’im, dying in the plague following the sin or perishing after drinking the mixture of water and the eigel’s remains. In fact, Hashem wanted to destroy the entire nation. Those who did not worship the eigel and whose intentions were noble, were nevertheless also culpable for straying from the path of the Torah given to them only forty days earlier. It was only through the prayers of Moshe Rabbeinu that the nation was saved.

History has shown time and again that our service to Hashem must be with a pure heart, but we must also ensure that our actions conform with the Torah.

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