The cheit ha’egel continues to
travel with us down the corridor of time, no less virulent today than at its inception some thirty three
hundred years ago. Today, as in
previous generations, we are compelled to insulate ourselves against its toxic
effects, but to do that we must first recognize its virulent potential.
spiritually barren times, when science is preoccupied with things that can be
measured and recorded, we assume that we
no longer need be concerned with
the attraction that avoda zara, literally, strange worship, may
have. That is, unfortunately not
true. There is a resurgence of interest
among the non-religious – perhaps as a reaction to the very spiritual
barrenness we alluded to – in the pseudo-mystical and magical. It has also most recently insinuated itself
into our lives by calamitously tainting the sheitels that are sold in
our communities. Understanding the
spiritual underpinnings of this phenomenon can serve as our strongest defense
So, it is with
this goal in mind that we turn our attention to the cheit ha’egel. Of all the cases of idol worship, the sin of the golden calf was the most
spiritually destructive. It produced
seeds that continue to sprout in every generation up to and including our
own. That is because this sin was the
result of three grave spiritual errors which affected all three of the
dimensions in which we live our lives and thus created spiritual blemishes
which implicated every aspect of life.
The first mistake
that prompted Klal Yisrael to make the egel was their
miscalculation of the time of Moshe Rabbeinu’s
expected return to the camp after his sojourn on the mountain. The yetzer
hara used the confusion engendered by this error to mislead us with the
illusion of Moshe’s passing and Klal Yisrael believed that Moshe
Rabbeinu, who faithfully served as an intermediary between Hashem and the
nation, had died. This miscalculation
caused the mixed multitude to clamor for a substitute and accept the egel when
it emerged from the flames.
which precipitated these events may well have been quite innocent and certainly
could have been corrected. However,
prompted by the eirev rav, Klal Yisrael was willing to place too
much reliance upon their own calculations rather then to await Moshe’s arrival
with calm faith and sincere belief. This
as now, we had access to two separate systems for the measurement of time,
which unfortunately are not always synchronized. The first is the Creator’s
timetable that metes out the minutes, days and years of our lives in accordance
with His plan for the world. The second
is our sense of time and of urgency, which causes us to set our clocks in
accordance with our idiosyncratic desires. The difference between them is the
measure of our impatience which in the case of the egel precipitated
this most serious aveira.
This aspect of our
worship of the golden calf, was not only a sin of action but of time, of choosing a replacement for Moshe at
a time when no replacement was necessary. By way of contrast, when a new
intermediary, a successor to Moshe Rabbeinu was actually required, Hashem chose
the time and guided the selection. Under
those circumstances, the yetzer hara was not able to gain any compass.
leader was dead, Klal Yisrael reasoned that if even a person as
extraordinary as Moshe Rabbeinu could not survive such intense contact with the
Creator, certainly, no other human being could successfully replace him. They, therefore, were willing to consider a
different, more durable, intermediary between themselves and Hashem.
us that in their search for a suitable replacement for Moshe, the people looked
to the symbolic images Hashem had designated for the four legs of His throne
(see Ramban Shemos 32:1). They
understood that those prototypes represented spiritual forces of extraordinary
power: The (ari) lion, the (nesher) eagle, the (shor) ox
and the face of a person – Yaakov Avinu.
It is not easy for us to
conceive of an animal serving as a conduit for spiritual revelation, but we
must keep in mind that we are referring to a metaphysical concept and not a
physical reality. The four symbols the Creator has chosen to represent the four
legs of His throne are metaphors with profound spiritual implications. To deepen our understanding, we can think of
these symbols as functioning, so to speak, like a computer. The computer is actually an inanimate
network of circuits and wires.
Nonetheless, when it is turned on, it seems to come alive with an
intelligence all its own. In truth, it
is merely a highly sophisticated tool that channels the inventor’s talents into
a software program that animates it so that it is able to serve the user’s
purposes. The Creator, whose control
over reality is absolute, can certainly “program” anything He chooses in order
to implement His will, be it human, animal, vegetable or mineral.
Klal Yisrael excluded a human intermediary, they then eliminated the conduit represented by the lion,
recognizing that its positive attributes of strength and courage
were apt to be bound with arrogance – a highly undesirable and dangerous trait.
Similarly, they rejected the eagle although it represents the attributes
of inspiration and renewal because of its very independent nature which is
unsuitable for Heavenly service. Ultimately, they concluded that the shor,
ox, the domesticated beast of labor, which exhibits the attribute of powerful
work channeled into developing Hashem’s world, and displays neither arrogance
nor obstinacy was the safest and most enduring conduit between themselves and
If this was their
intention, what then was their error and what was their sin?
It is of course
understood that the Torah itself prohibits the creation of a graven image. However, Aharon’s involvement in creating the
egel means that it obviously was not an outright idol.
An answer to this
question perhaps lies in the fact that the Torah warns us not to do less than
it commands or more then it requires. When Moshe Rabbeinu, the most humble of
all men, served as the intermediary between Hashem and Klal Yisrael, his
ego-less service neither increased nor decreased the permissible connection
between Hashem and Klal Yisrael.
Moshe Rabbeinu, who possessed no egoistic traits that could interfere
with his service of Hashem, was able to communicate with Hashem through a clear
vision. Accordingly, under Moshe’s
direction, there was no hindrance in the communication of Hashem’s commands to
us. Nor was there any diminution of Klal
Yisrael’s capacity to proclaim Hashem’s unity and Absolute sovereignty
since Moshe Rabbeinu, representive of the human symbol on Hashem’s throne, was
inclusive of all the other spiritual forces represented there.
When the golden calf was substituted
in Moshe’s stead, its service impermissibly subtracted from our required
service of Hashem because it represented only some, but not all of the positive
traits reflected by the symbols on Hashem’s throne. Thus it provided too narrow a conduit to
accommodate our wholehearted devotion to Hashem.
One of the holy names of the
Creator is HaMakom, meaning “The Place.” “The Holy One Blessed be He, is
the location of the world, but His world is not His location” (Bereishis
Rabba 68:4) meaning that Hashem’s Infinite Reality cannot be comprehended
or confined in any way by our finite minds in our finite world. In creating the egel, an object that
took up space, the eirev rav, in an act of presumptuous egoism,
attempted to exchange the Infinite for the finite and limit Hashem’s presence
to one fixed place. That was great
error. This choice was Hashem’s to make,
as in the choice of a successor for Moshe Rabbeinu, when Hashem deemed the time
and the circumstances to be right, Hashem created a place for His Shechina
to rest by commanding us to build the Mishkan. In creating the egel, the eirev
rav attempted to usurp that prerogative and in so doing committed a
Rectifying the Cheit
The sin of avoda
zara is one of the rare instances where thought alone, even without action,
is punishable on High. The sin is thus
one of thought as much as of action and its rectification lies in our
attitude. The cheit ha’egel was
committed because Klal Yisrael, through the instigation of the eirev
rav had too much confidence in their own calculations and too little
confidence in Hashem. Confidence in
Hashem translates into self esteem because those who have faith in Hashem and
understand that they are tzelem Elokim feel secure and achieved. Yet, since they realize that their
achievements are a gift from Hashem, they have self esteem, but not
arrogance. Those who think that it is
they who run the world and not Hashem, are at once frightened and insecure,
even as they build idols of gold and silver in a desperate attempt to create
order and control their destinies.
In order to insulate ourselves against all
forms of “idol worship,” we are best
served by acquiring an attitude that is both self assured and secure yet
humble. This is not as difficult as it
may appear. The distinguished professor and the wealthy entrepreneur do not
worry about having to prove themselves.
They do not need to flaunt their wealth or their knowledge to increase
their self esteem, because they feel achieved. Though we understand that
egotistical self esteem is hollow and false, we can adopt their attitude by
allowing ourselves to appreciate the fact that Hashem created us betzelem
Elokim, in His Image and as a reflection of His will.
Elokim within us allows us to renew our battle each day against our selfish
and negative attitudes using the eagle’s qualities of inspiration and renewal,
the lion’s strength and courage and the shor’s submissive work. Using these spiritual tools we can learn to
accept Hashem’s time frame and see His will in this world and thus fulfill our
role in creation.
In order to
realize the incredible potential that lies within ourselves, as tzelem
Elokim, we can think of the word tzelem as an acronym: The letter tzaddik of tzelem represents the tzaddik, a
symbolic reminder of our pure and
righteousness souls. This is Person.
The tzaddik with his great and ego-less soul is in opposition to the
narrowness of the egel. The lamed of tzelem represents luach, the calendar of the Creator. This is Time.
The clock and calendar of the Creator teach patience, instructing us to
make our needs for gratification subservient to Hashem’s time frame. The mem
of tzelem is makom, Place, and is there to help us dissolve the
illusion of nature and see the presence of HaMakom in every aspect of
this world. If we are able to keep in
mind at every turn that we are indeed, tzelem Elokim, we will have
learned an approach that will help to heal the spiritual wound caused by the cheit
rectification of our consciousness in, person, time and place, we can truly be
prepared for the advent of the final redemption, may it be soon in our days.
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