Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tisa
To dedicate this lesson

Ki Tisa


Rabbi Berel Wein

The Talmud teaches us that in every generation a portion of the punishment for the construction of the Golden calf in the desert by the Jewish people is exacted. I think that in a greater measure we can state that the sin of the Golden Calf itself is repeated in every generation. The obvious problem arising out of the Golden Calf is how could the Jewish people, fresh from the miracles of Egypt, Yam Suf, manna and the revelation at Sinai nevertheless revert to paganism and worship a man made deity. What possessed them to be so blind as to their own recent experiences and to their stated destiny? Of course, this incident is the ultimate proof of the allowance for free will in human affairs, even for the most destructive form of free will. And yet it is most troubling to realize how seriously error prone the Jewish people can be. And the fact that this weakness constantly asserts itself in every generation is itself the portion of the punishment meted out to us over the many generations since that Golden Calf was constructed and worshipped in the desert of Sinai. After all one could hope that after 3321years something might have been learned. And yet we are witness to the fact that the Golden Calf in all of its modern and secular manifestations still dances and prances amongst us. Apparently this punishment still exacts its pain and victims even though so much time has elapsed since the original sin of the Golden Calf.

There appears to have been multiple causes for the construction of the original Golden Calf. The absence of Moshe, Aharon’s vacillation, the presence of a large and vocal non-Jewish section within the Jewish people - the eirev rav, - the always present memories of Egypt and its pagan society and culture, the uncertain self-worth of a recently emancipated people from slavery, are all contributory factors in the unfolding tragedy of the Golden Calf. Almost all of these factors exist in our time as well. The absence of inspiring religious leadership, the inability to formulate a positive vision for the people and the state, the influences of a non-Jewish world that has turned all basic human values on its face, the revival of the pagan ideas and lifestyles of the ancient world in the guise of new liberal ideas and permissive values, the difficulties of adjusting to national independence after millennia of exile, all combine in our time to allow the Golden Calf to still exist within us. The failures of assimilation, secularism, Westernization at all costs, are all visible to all of us. Yet we are all reluctant to abandon the allure of the shine of the Golden Calf. Only when we will have our fill of these false hopes and retrograde ideas will we be free to accept Moshe’s dramatic act of destroying the Golden Calf into dust and powder. Perhaps then will our bill for the original Golden Calf be finally stamped as being paid in full.
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