Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Ki Tisa- parshas Para 5770

First off, an apology for my apalling neglect of this blog so far this year.  I will endeavor to do better!

This weeks parsha deals with the incident of the egel hazahav (golden calf).  A sad incident in jewish history, and one which could have led to Hashem destroying the Jewish people.  Indeed, he made this offer to Moshe, who stated that if Hashem destroyed the Jews, he must remove him from the Tirah and not start the nation anew through him.  On the surface it seems that all makes sense, the people worship idols after hearing they are not allowed to when Hashem spoke the first two commandments to them, and Hashem moves to execute the death penalty that is the punishment for such an act.  However, there seems to be more to it than this surface

On the surface it looks like a clear case of idol worship, yet the midrash tells us differently.  Let us look at the sequence of events:

First  the people despair because Moshe has not returned so they come to Aharon and state that they want Aharon to make them gods to go before them, later Aharon tries to delay them by declaring the feast for the next day, hoping for Moshe to return before they can inaugurate their new gods.

At first, according to the Midrash, at this point it was the Jews making the request- and the reference here was to the making of some form through which Hashem wuld be able to commuicate to them. Initally the request was not for idols, but for something symbolic, like the Keruvim on the Aron Kodesh through which Hashem spoke to Moshe. However, the intent was perverted by the eruv rav, the mixed multitude that had left Egypt with Bnei Yisrael and were largely idol worshippers.

Further, we are taught that Moshe left Aharon and Hur in charge, yet only Aharon is discussed in this incident. What happened to Hur? Why does Aharon eventually co-operate? Because when he refused initially, they killed Hur before him and said they would kill him next. The question has to be raised, why did Aharon co-operate even though his life is in danger? The principle of Pikuach Nefesh does not apply since the prohibition against idolatry is one of the things that we have to die for, and that prohibition includes making an idol for others to worship! The answer comes back to the intial intent- when Bnei Yisrael were mistaken in asking for a new symbol for G-d to talk to them through, they were not contemplating idolatry. Thus at that point Aharon could use the principle of Pikuach Nefesh to save his life since the prohibition of idolatry was not yet involved. Only later did the Eruv Rav pervert the intent and thus turn it into idolatry. It is also for this reason that the incident is not counted as a sin for Aharon, at the point he acted, he was allowed to in order to save his life. Also, the fact that the people acquiesced to waiting, to not starting to worship the egal hazahav as soon as it emerged was indicative that at this point they were not yet intending idol worship. Aharon called it a “feast for Hashem tomorrow”- deliberately dedicating it to Hashem and removing the egal hazahav from the planned celebrations. However, no one complained about this- if the intent was for this to be a new god, a replacement for Hashem, then surely the people would have complained at this dedication. If the intent was only to have the egal hazahav as a symbolic form through which Hashem could communicate to them in the absence of Moshe, their behaviour makes sense. Only later, only at the very end hen the egal hazahav is inaugurated do the revels get out of hand, only then do the ruv rav entice Bnei Yisrael into idol worship.

The question then has to be asked- why does the Torah portray it as idolatry right from the start? Here we see the principle that those who are at higher spiritual level are held to a higher standard than us. These people had only a short time before been at Har Sinai, heard Hashem speak as he gave us the Aseret Ha Dibrot. It is said that at Har Sinai the lowlest maid servant exceeded the level of prophecy that Yechezkiel had when he saw the divine chariot, yet here they are, already doing something not allowed, already swerving off the path they had promised to follow unquestioningly when they stated “Na’aseh vnishmah!” Fro them, this incident was as wrong as for others in later generations to commit idolatry. In order to enable us to understand this message, the Torah portrays this incident in the worst possible light.

(As a side note, anothe rplace we see this principle applied is in the incident with King David and Bat Shevah- where it is portrayed as adultery, butin fact she was technically divorced as soldiers of the time left their wives with a retroactive get to be used if they did not return to protect them as the Get would mean they got extra gifts for their support and she would not need to rely on cildren for support; also, in the case of non children it meant she would nto fall to the husband’s brother in yibum (leviate marriage))

From this we learn that Hashem judges each of us according to where we are- the greater we are, the more strictly we are judged. The same principle applies in reverse- the less we know, the lower our level, the more leniently we are judged. A nice story to illustrate this point s frequently told:

A man goes to his Rabbi in tears. “Rabbi, I wish to draw closer to Hashem, I want to improve myself. But I am old, and I will never be able to learn enough to be righteous like Avraham or Moshe, what do I do?”

The Rabbi looks at the man and smiles, “You need not worry about how to get to the level of righteousnes of Avraham or Moshe. When you face th Heavenly court in Olam haBa they will not ask why you failed to be like Avraham or Moshe.  What they will ask is why you failed to be the best YOU, you could be.  Why you did not take the opportunities before you and become as righteous as you are able to be”

So, a good shabbos to all and may you all be the best YOU you can be


March 2, 2010 - Posted by | Torah | , , , , , , , , , ,

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