Parsha Ki Tisa 5772 — The Golden Calf and Biting the Bait of Destiny’s Tests: Contrasting B’nai Yisrael and Moshe Rabbeinu

by Moshe Burt


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Moshe Burt

For many years, this author has spoken or written about a posuk in Parsha Ki Tisa which alludes to an event which is recorded in Torah 40 years later, in a subsequent Parsha.

The posuk being referred to (Sh’mos, Perek 30, posuk 30) says that while Moshe Rabbeinu was on Har Sinai being given Torah, Hashem said;

“You shall anoint Aaron and his sons and sanctify them to minister (to serve) Me.”

This seemingly obscure posuk, which pops up 8 times in various different forms in Parsha Tetzaveh and again in our Parsha, raises a few challenging questions, i.e., What about that Pinchas Ben Elazar? Why was he not anointed as a Kohen with the other sons of Aaaron and their descendents? What about the first-born and the Priesthood?

The answer regarding Pinchas would seem to be that since he was born in Mitzrayim, before Matan Torah, he didn’t get “grandfathered” into the Kehunah retroactively, although his father, Elazar was a son of Aaron. Elazar and Aaron’s 3 other sons, as well as all future descendents of Aaron and his son’s from the time of Matan Torah would inherit the Kehunah. But there seems to be more.

In following Parsha Tetzaveh, we learn that Hashem first instructs Moshe Rabbeinu as to the pressed olive oil for illumination of the eternal flame of the menorah, and then regarding the Bigdei Kehuna — the clothing of the Kohanim — the Priests.

Rashi holds that Parsha Tetzaveh is actually out of order and that Hashem’s handing down the Halachot concerning Aaron and the lighting of the Menorah, the Bigdei Kehuna and anointing Aaron and his sons as Kohanim came only after sin of the eigel zahav — the golden calf. Ramban however, holds that Tetzaveh’s placement is sequentially correct.

Yaakov Aveinu, in his Brachot to his sons, withdrew the rights of the first-born from Reuven due to the incident regarding the bed; giving Yosef the birthright, the kingship to Yehuda and seemingly withdrawing the merit of the Priesthood from Reuven and giving it to Levi. However, both The Midrash Says (Sefer Sh’mot, Parsha Tetzaveh, page 277) and Yehuda Nachshoni’s Studies in the Weekly Parashah indicate that the first-borns retained the Kehunah up until the sin of the eigel when, as Nachshoni puts it (Sefer Breish’t, Parsha Vayechi, page 312):

…The tribe of Levi… came to the defense of Hashem’s glory with [after the sin of — MB] the Golden Calf.

As Hashem, in a manner of description, related the Torah to Moshe, this author would like to suggest that the following could have occured;

As Moshe was receiving the Laws regarding the Mishkan, the 40th day came and the B’nai Yisrael panicked when Moshe didn’t descend from Har Sinai when they thought he would. They concluded that he was gone, that something happened to him, that he would never return. They sought another intermediary — a replacement Moshe to intercede with Hashem. Ergo, the Eigel Zahav. As Hashem was completing his recitation to Moshe concerning the building of the Mishkan, the laws concerning the oil for the Menorah and for the Priestly garments; perhaps, simultaneously, the B’nai Yisrael was in a panic over Moshe’s failure to return, and handing jewelry over for the eigel at that very moment. Perhaps we could say that Hashem Audibled over center. Audible according to Wikipedia describes:

A tactic used by quarterbacks in American football to change a play at the line of scrimmage.

Big Surprise: The Kehunah — the priesthood is conferred upon Aaron and his sons and their descendents as Hashem forsakes the first-borns after the sin (chait) of the eigel zahav.

Meanwhile, back on earth; we learn that the priesthood, seemingly intended by Hashem originally for the first-born males of B’nai Yisrael, was given by Divine command to Aaron, his sons and their descendents. Pinchas, who is the only documented son of Elazar recorded in Chumash or in Chronicles — if he was the only offspring of Elazar ben Aaron, he (Pinchas) seemingly would have merited the priesthood as did the other first-borns. If the previous sentence is true, then it would seem that due to the Eigel Zahav, when the first-borns lost the merit of the Kehunah to Aaron and his sons, Pinchas, perhaps previously zocha to Priesthood if a first-born, found himself, by virtue of his birth before Matan Torah, in the position of not being a Kohen although a son of Elazar HaKohen.

Pinchas ultimately received the merit of the Kehunah only by virtue of his act of zealousness, L’Shem Shemayim, rak L’Shem Shemayim.

With the sin of the Eitz Hadas — fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Hashem apparently departed from plan in expelling man from Gan Eden, forcing him to work for his “daily bread” with Chava and womanhood to endure the pains and pangs of the term of pregnancy. In the generation of the Mabul — The Great Flood, Hashem couldn’t stand by as mankind sinned and, as it were, switched gears wiping out the generation totally with the exception of Noach and his family, from whence we all come. In the generation of the Tower of Babel (Migdal Bavel), when man was united in rebelling against Shemayim, Hashem changed directions, disjointing man’s speech such that they could no longer communicate in a common tongue and thus battled amongst themselves. We suffer the deadly cost of a communications gap — both between nations and amongst Am Yisrael — to this day.

When man bowed to idols — to avodah zora after the Mabul and after Migdal Bavel, Hashem sought to build His chosen people beginning with the emergence of Avraham Aveinu.

Once forming His Nation and conveying Priesthood upon the first-born of the male gender, and then subjecting His Nation to forging and molding under the iron crucible of Mitzrayim, He saw that His Nation complained about everything, lacked emunah and thus panicked, imagining the “disappearance” of Moshe Rabbeinu and seeking a replacement intermediary between them and Hashem. And with the emergence of a golden calf, Hashem’s “Audible” apparently marked yet another departure from plan — the Priesthood, seemingly intended for the first-borns, was instead conveyed to Aaron and his sons.

But more than that, 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:

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 explains:

Cheit HaEigel {the golden calf} was part of our destiny; it was part of Hashem’s plan all along. Rabbi Chaim Halpern explains (Sefer Shaarei Chaim, page 263) that Hashem orchestrated the circumstances so that the sin would happen at that time. Rashi elaborates, “It was a decree of the King [for the yetzer hara]… in order to give an opening to ba’alei teshuvah. For if the sinner will say, ‘I will not do teshuvah because I will not be accepted,’ they will say to him, ‘Go out and learn from the act of the Calf, that they denied [Hashem] and they were accepted {back} with teshuvah.’ According to this interprestation, had it not been for this grave sin and B’nei Yisrael’s subsequent successful teshuvah, sinners in future generations would have despaired.

….One might ask: If this predestined transgression was simply to teach us a lesson {about teshuvah}, why did it have to be such a radical sin with such severe consequences?

For it to be a powerful educational moment, all of the details needed to be taken to the extreme…. Future sinners will be encouraged when they look to the precedent that teshuvah can redeem even from the worst of sins and even an entire nation.

Hope is never lost. The teshuvah message from the Cheit HaEigel is alive in every generation…. We are never out of reach. Hashem will always receive our teshuvah and bring us back to Him.

So, this author asks; if the Eigel Zahav was a predestined transgression to expose the Jewish nation to a paradigm of teshuvah, why do we keep paying for the sin, in small part, with every other aveirah (sin) we commit to this very day and every time until tthe times of Moshiach?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the contrast between how B’nei Yisrael reacted to her test — her reaction when Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t arrive when they thought he would, i.e. the golden calf, and Moshe Rabbeinu’s reaction when Hashem was ready to destroy B’nei Yisrael.

B’nei Yisrael bit the bait of Hashem’s test: Moshe Rabbeinu’s seemingly delayed arrival back to the Camp brought to the surface the B’nei Yisrael’s serial complaints and lack of emunah. On the other hand, Hashem’s declaration that He would “unleash… wrath against them to destroy them” was met with these responses from Moshe Rabbeinu in two dialogues (Sefer Shemos Perek 32, p’sukim 11-14, 30-32 ) :

“Why should Egypt be able to say that You took them out with evil intentions to kill them… and wipe them from the earth. Withdraw your… anger, and refrain from doing evil to Your people.

“Remember Your servants, Avaraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. You swore to them by Your very essence, and declared that You would make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, giving their descendants the land as You promised…

The next day, Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go back up to Hashem and try to gain atonement for your crime.”

Moshe went back up to Hashem, and he said, The people have committed a terrible sin by making a golden idol. Now, if You would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that you have written.”

In short, Am Yisrael took the bait of their destiny-changing test, while their leader Moshe Rabbeinu seems to have withstood what appwears to have been Hashem’s ultimate test. Thus Hashem accepted the nation’s teshuvah, creating a destiny where the B’nei Yisrael has outlived her every oppressor. Can one even fathom the horrific destiny had Moshe NOT spoken up?

We, today face multitudes of different tests, i.e. the divorced or widowed single parents and fatherless children, level of caring for at-risk young people, businesses and their debt obligations, Kupat Cholim doctors, specialists and management — whether to deliver the level of medical care to which patients are entitled, or whether to continue in the same old ways of lusting for increasingly excessive profits at the cost of Doctor impatience, abrasiveness and bums-rush toward patients (brought on daily patient quotas), approved co-pay medicine lists which are cure-limiting — often with aggregious side-effects on patients and often with counter-productive impact on crucial tests which could determine surgery, subsequent medicines, rate of recovery etc. Other tests include diligently following up on one’s child’s education, or “greasing the rebbe” for protexia — one could go on and on with countless tests regarding issues at all levels of daily life, tests at home, at the table, tests at shul, tests at work and tests relating to how we treat our brethren and whether or not we cleave to and possess Eretz Yisrael. And if we fail various tests, at any particular time, Rebbetzin Smiles provides ideas and sources indicating that the sin of the golden calf produced the paradigm for teshuvah to this very day.

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 — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the backbone, moral courage and fortitude to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over 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 — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — 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.