Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah recounts the episode of the golden calf. Koheles Rabbah 3:21 links this episode with the following verse (Koheles 3:16): “And I also saw under the sun: In the place of judgment there is misfortune, and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness.” The simple meaning of the Midrash is that the Jewish People sinned with the golden calf at the very same place where they received the Torah. But the Maggid, in his commentary on the verse in Koheles, brings out a deeper message.
The Maggid notes that, in the account of the aftermath of the golden calf episode, the Torah states (Shemos 32:25): “Moshe saw that the people were exposed, for Aharon had exposed them to disgrace among those who rise up against them.” He suggests that the idea here is that the sin of the golden calf was not just a momentary evil, but an evil that effected all future generations. The sin of the calf set a precedent, which would lead people of future generations to commit similar perverse deeds.
As an example, the Maggid cites the story of Yeravam ben Navat, the first sovereign of the Kingdom of Israel. Yeravam set up two golden calves as idols, in order to deter pilgrimages to Yerushalayim. One would think that the Jewish People would not be led astray by this tactic, but Yeravam succeeded by citing the golden calf episode at Sinai. He argued that Aharon must have had a sound reason for making the calf and declaring the next day a “festival unto Hashem.” True, the “festival” was nullified in the end, when Moshe arrived and destroyed the calf. But Yeravam claimed that after Moshe’s death it would be legitimate to erect this type of statue. Yeravam’s reasoning is evident from the fact that he did not devise some other form for his statues, but instead chose specifically the form of a calf.
The Maggid sums up the idea as follows. The Giving of the Torah is the root of all the Jewish People’s virtue and righteousness. Thus, our Sages say that when the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai, the spiritual impurity from the primeval serpent was purged from them. In parallel, the making of the golden calf, also at Sinai, is the root of all rebelliousness toward Hashem. It is for this reason that, as our Sages say, every punishment Hashem casts upon us includes a smidgen of retribution for the sin of the golden calf (Sanhedrin 102a). And this is what the Torah means in the verse we quoted above: “Moses saw that the people were exposed, for Aaron had exposed them to disgrace among those who rise up against them.” The phrase “those who rise up against them” refers to heretics, along the lines of Tehillim 139:21, which speaks of those who rise up against Hashem. The heretics use the golden calf episode as a model for devising ways of leading us astray. As a result, the golden calf works against us as an eternal snare. Thus Shlomo HaMelech tells us: The place that is the source of all our righteousness is also the source of all our wickedness.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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