Parshat Ki Tisa 5774: Cheit HaEigel — B’nai Yisrael’s Near Fatal Misconceptions Regarding Torah, Leadership and Channel to Hashem?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Ki Tisa is being sponsored by Dov & Lauren Greenberg and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of their son Elisha’s Bar Mitzvah – Parshat Terumah. To the Greenberg family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Ki Tisa 5774: Cheit HaEigel — B’nai Yisrael’s Near Fatal Misconceptions Regarding Torah, Leadership and Channel to Hashem?

by Moshe Burt

After the event of B’nai Yisrael’s demand for a “god” resulted in the fashioning of the Egel Zahav (golden calf), Hashem seemed ready to put an end to this people (Sefer Shemos, Parsha Ki Tisa Perek 32, posukim 9 and 10):

Hashem said to Moshe, “I have observed the people, and they are an unbending group. Now do not try to stop Me when I unleash My wrath against them to destroy them. I will then make you into a great nation.”

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in her sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos (pages 145-147) outlines the scenario of how Hashem commanded Moshe to redeem the Jews from Egypt, how Pharoah refused to free them bringing about the resultant 10 Makkos [plagues], how Pharoah and the Mitzri army pursued them to the Reed Sea, how the Yam Suf split as the Jews crossed on dry land while the Mitzri army — men, chariots and horses sank.

Rebbetzin Smiles writes of B’nai Yisrael’s rapid and steep descent from their previous great spiritual heights :

All of these Divinely orchestrated events were for the ultimate purpose of preparing the descendants of Yaakov to receive the Torah. By this point in time, the Jews had reached such spiritual heights that “even a maidservant at the Red Sea saw what the prophets Yechezkel and Yeshaya never saw.”

….Having just experienced a revelation greater than almost any other prophet in history, the people remained at the foot of the mountain. Moshe Rabbeinu “approached the fog where Hashem was, ” (Sefer Shemos Perek 20, posuk 18) and ascended Mount Sinai to receive the details of the Torah and bring them down to the Jews.

Forty days later, the Jews…. saw “that Moshe was late coming down from the Mountain.” The people gathered around Aaron and they said to him, “Rise and make us a god that will go before us, because this man Moshe who took us up from the land of Egypt — we do not know what happened to him.” (Sefer Shemos Perek 32, posuk 1)

Were they not recent witnesses to countless open miracles in Egypt and at Yam Suf? Did they not hear directly from Hashem forty days earlier, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Sefer Shemos Perek 20, posuk 3)

Rebbetzin Smiles continues:

Cheit HaEigel was part of our destiny; it was part of Hashem’s plan all along. Rabbi Chaim Halpern, in his sefer Shaarei Chaim (page 263), explains that Hashem orchestrated the circumstances so that the sin would happen at that time. Rashi elaborates, “It was the decree of the King (for the yetzer hora) to control them in order to give an opening to Ba’alei Teshuvah…”

Then there is Aaron HaKohen and his role in the fashioning of the Egel Zahav. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his sefer “Growth Through Torah,” quotes from our parsha and cites Daas Zkainim:

“And Aaron said to them, remove the golden earings which are on the ears of your wives, sons and daughters and bring them to me. (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 32, posuk 2)

Daas Zkainim explains that Aaron’s intentions were for the sake of heaven. …He said to himself, “Now that Moshe has not returned, if I will appoint Kolaiv or Nachshon as the leader in Moshe’s absence, when Moshe returns they will not be eager to give up their position of leadership which will cause a quarrel. If I do not appoint anyone as leader, they will appoint a leader themselves and this will also cause a major quarrel. If I will make myself the leader until Moshe returns, when he comes back, he will feel that I tried to usurp his leadership. Therefore, until Moshe returns I will keep them busy with talk about making a meaningless golden calf. The women will be reluctant to give up their jewelry and therefore, I will be able to stall for time.”

…His [Aaron’s] real intentions… that he sincerely tried to avoid doing things that could be problematic.

So how is it that Hashem seemingly orchestrated B’nai Yisrael’s apparent free-fall from their previous spiritual heights? Yehuda Nachshoni cites several views by Chazal and Midrashim of the Egel Zahav in his Sefer “Studies in the Weekly Parasha” (Parshat Ki Tisa, pages 572-577). Nachshoni cites explanations from Kuzari (1.37) and others as to the Egel Zahav:

The B’nai Yisrael only wished a special place where they could focus their prayers and concentrate on serving Hashem. Among the nations of that era, physical forms and symbols functioned as focal points for prayer and meditation, like our synagogues [Batei Knesset] today: “Just as we do today in our places of worship, taking pride in their stones and mortar.” The …masses could not concentrate on serving Hashem except in a special place.

In Kuzari’s view, the worship involving the Egel Zahav did not comprise rebellion against Hashem… The B’nai Yisrael had been commanded not to make physical forms. However, by making analogies to other forms Hashem had commanded, they deemed it permissible to make the Egel.

Aaron wished to correct the people’s error regarding unauthorized worship of physical forms. His first step in doing so was to have them spell out their heretical thoughts as actions, His intentions were good. He wished to educate them to serve Hashem truthfully.

Ibn Ezra… understands that the B’nai Yisrael wished to serve Hashem concretely, because Moshe had disappeared from the scene, and there was no one to teach them the meaning of serving Hashem.

Aaron answered their call, thinking no great sin was involved. After all, the Am Yisrael were not turning their hearts away from Hashem, only choosing a different form of service. Aaron (Sefer Sh’mos, Perek 32, posuk 5)… mentioned Hashem’s name, i.e., the spiritual content remained unchanged. Only, there was a small concession to concreteness of worship.

Yet…, this concession led to the sin of part of the nation, the mixed multitude, who abandoned the content and grasped only the form. For them, the Egel was true idolatry. The mixed multitude were a minute minority, only one half a percent of the population. Yet the entire nation was held responsible for daring to create unauthorized forms of worship. They did not understand the meaning of “Do not make for yourself any carved idol or any likeness” (Sefer Sh’mos Perek 20, posuk 4). The sin was therefore associated with them all.

R’ Yehonasan Eybeschutz (Tiferes Yehonasan) states that the people’s mistake stemmed from their likening of the Egel to the Cheruv[im], since both are part of the celestial chariot. They did not understand that only what was commanded is permissible. All else is deemed idol worship.

They sinned by creating a false analogy between forms of worship Hashem had commanded and those He had not. Their sin originated with the mentality of their times, and the direction it led them.

Meshech Chochmah: …Moshe shattered the Luchos {tablets of the Ten Commandments] to shatter the nation’s false but deep-seated beliefs.

Moshe, an agent between Hashem and man, has no special status on a personal level where mitzvah observance is concerned. For us to exist, Torah must exist, for Hashem and Torah are one, and the Torah depends only upon Hashem, the Prime Cause.

…Moshe cried out, “Am I so holy that in my absence you felt that you had to make an Egel Zahav? Heaven forbid! I am only a man like you. The Torah does not depend upon me… Do not imagine that the Mishkan and the Temple are holy in and of themselves. Their holiness derives only from Hashem’s residing among His children and if those children break their covenant, the holiness of the Temple and the Mishkan will be removed. They will be like mundane items destroyed by vandals.”

Ultmately, nothing in the world deserves our devotion and submission but Hashem, for only He is inherently holy, and only to Him are praise and service acceptable.

The Mishkan and the Temples are holy only because Hashem decreed them to be so… Thus, when Moshe approached the camp and saw the Egel and the dancing, he realized the gravity of Am Yisrael’s error and conceding to their mood as Aaron had done, he broke the Luchos.

Had Moshe brought down the Luchos, the Am Yisrael would have exchanged the Egel Zahav for the Luchos without their misunderstanding being removed. By shattering them, he made the people realize that they had not reached their goal; faith in Hashem and His pure Torah… The breaking of the Luchos was a lesson to the Jewish people in the essence of faith in Hashem.

So, how are we to understand both Hashem’s orchestration of events leading to the Egel Zahav and His anger at the act? In a normal year where there is one Chodesh Adar, Purim comes on the heels of Parshat Ki Tisa. Megillat Esther (Perek 4, posukim 5 – 16) tell of the dialogue of messages transmitted between Mordechai and Esther and of Esther’s hesitation to approach King Achashveirosh, unsummoned (a crime of protocal punishable by death) on behalf of her people.

In the climactic 13th and 14th posukim, Mordechai responds to Esther’s message:

“Do not imagine that you will be able to escape in the King’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place… And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position.”

The point here seems to be that Hashem, ke ve yachol, apparently orchestrated events leading to the Egel Zahav based on knowing the misconceptions of B’nai Yisrael’s collective mindset. And so, perhaps we can understand Hashem’s orchestration visa vi, our freedom of choice. Had the mindset of B’nai Yisrael been an understanding and internalization that all things: Torah, the Mishkan, Leadership emanate from Hashem and that they, the B’nai Yisrael have, by their very being, an inherent direct channel to Hashem without need for a tangible physical manifestation (which could easily be taken as the focal point of people’s service, i.e., avodah zora, idolatry), then it would seem that Moshe would have descended Har Sinai with the Luchos intact, and who knows (?)… Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, direct entry into Eretz Yisrael, return to Gan Eden — right then and there??

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.