Pragmatism and Expediency


rabbi-lipschutzBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Fresh from the experiences and lessons of Purim, we lain Parshas Ki Sisa, wherein we read of the tragic downfall of the Bnei Yisroel as they sinned with the Eigel. Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah, and when he failed to return at the expected time, the people began to worship a molten calf crafted from their wives’ jewelry.

These were the people of the Dor De’ah, the generation that stood at the foot of Har Sinai and declared, “Na’aseh venishmah.” How could they have relinquished their loyalty to Moshe for a little getchkeh?

Indeed, how was it possible for this noble people to fall so far, so fast? What caused them to be led so far astray? Had they decided to seek the authority of an exalted individual such as Aharon Hakohein after losing a leader of Moshe’s stature, we could understand. That they were willing to elevate an inanimate object to the lofty position of Hashem’s emissary is incomprehensible.

Rashi (32:1) explains that Moshe told the Jews in the desert that he would be back in forty days and they erred in their calculation. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (89a) which explains that the Soton “confused the natural order,” creating a mirage of Moshe’s body being carried in heaven as if in a casket.

Can we really blame the Bnei Yisroel? How were they supposed to know that what their eyes were seeing wasn’t real?

Their mistake, it appears, was precisely the failure to question those images. They should have probed for the truth behind the mirage. They should have contemplated the possibility that their calculations were in error. Instead of quickly concluding that Moshe would never return, they should have trusted his promise and restrained the impulse to invent an immediate substitute. They should have recalculated their suppositions and fortified their belief in Moshe’s promised return. They failed because they submitted to the Soton. The urge to give an instantaneous response is one of the Soton’s tools.

Aharon sought to delay the Bnei Yisroel. He urged them to wait until the next day, promising that “We will celebrate before G-d tomorrow.” But by the next morning, they had degenerated to such a sorry state that they were engaged in idolatry and promiscuous conduct. Aharon’s plan went up in a cloud of smoke.

The slope from holiness to depravity is indeed so slippery that, in a few short hours, they slid from the apex of spiritual achievement to the lowest rung possible. Such is human frailty.

Moshe returned and called for those who were loyal to Hashem to come to his side. Only the tribe of Levi rallied to him. The shevet which dedicated itself to the study of Torah and was free from Egyptian enslavement was the only one that cast its lot with Moshe. The others were too far gone.

They left the fold because they were convinced that Moshe wouldn’t return. And when he did return, they failed to heed his call.
Life often throws challenges of this sort our way. Things appeal to our senses, tempting us against our better judgment. We find ourselves being seduced by outward appearances and scenes that the Soton paints for us. We disobey our teachings, traditions and common sense, because we are dazzled or enraptured by something that we can’t resist pursuing. We convince ourselves that there is nothing remiss with our behavior. We resort to all kinds of excuses and rationales to justify our actions.

Bnei Torah have to see through the Soton’s attempts to mislead and sow mayhem. We have to remain loyal to the cause and not be led astray by charming imposters and opportunists.

Charlatans blessed with amazing grace and charisma abound. No matter how many are fooled by their charm, we must remember that our eyes – and ears – can fool us. We must resist the deceptions of ego-driven people with self-serving agendas.

In each instance, it falls upon the bnei Levi to rally around the Moshe of the generation and attempt to minimize the casualties.
The Soton works in other ways as well. He portrays death and desolation, and plants seeds of despondency and despair among the Jewish people. Bnei Levi must not be deterred. We must remain steadfast in our devotion to Torah and its causes despite the apparent bleakness of the situation.

The meraglim also failed because they permitted their eyes to fool them. As a consequence of their refusal to accept the exhortations of Yehoshua and Kaleiv, they ended up revolting against Moshe, Aharon and G-d. They met the same fate as those who danced around the Eigel.

It is only when we rally around the Torah, and those in the generation who bear the mantle of Moshe Rabbeinu, that we have the power to save ourselves. We must maintain our bond with them, deepen our study of Torah and mussar, and ignore the blandishments that are utilized to derail us from the path of the righteous.

If we seek for ourselves the mantle of the bnei Levi and grasp onto the Torah, we are guaranteed assistance in keeping our vision pure and uncorrupted.

This lesson is also taught in Megillas Esther. Mordechai Hatzadik would not be led astray by forces of public opinion and ambitions of political power or expediency. He fought Haman with all the means available to him and refused to cower and submit to the minister’s ego-maniacal laws and decrees.

It was because of Mordechai’s single-minded devotion to halacha and his refusal to engage in any compromise with the forces of evil, says the Chofetz Chaim, that the Jews merited to be miraculously delivered. Mordechai wouldn’t let himself be deceived by images of what the times demanded. He refused to cede to those who called for a more pragmatic approach in dealing with the forces of evil and change.

He saw beneath the surface. He didn’t permit himself to become swept up by the tide. The Soton held no sway over him, for he saw and interpreted everything through the prism of the timeless truth of Torah. His perseverance and non-compliance are what saved the Jewish people from certain destruction and the hands of a tyrant and pliant common folk.

On Purim, as well as Chanukah, we recite Al Hanissim to thank Hashem for the miracles he performed during the days we commemorate. We offer thanks “for the miracles, salvations, wondrous strong deeds, victories, and wars – al hanissim, ve’al hapurkan, ve’al hagevuros, ve’al hateshuos, ve’al hamilchamos, she’asisah la’avoseinu bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh.
Why do we offer thanks for the battles which we were forced to fight? What is there about battle that we are so thankful for?

The Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt”l (Megillas Esther Im Peirush Geonei Lita, Mosad Harav Kook, 2010), answers that when we say “al hamilchamos,” we are expressing appreciation for the ability to fight against wickedness and dishonesty. Though evil appears to be unbeatable and about to overwhelm us, we refuse to submit. We engage evil in battle and seek Divine assistance as we resist those who are corrupt and fight for the cause of virtuosity and Torah. We do not appease, we do not crumble, and we do not surrender.

Al hamilchamos. We thank Hashem for granting us the ability to fight and battle for the truth.

Much the same as we have had to engage in so many battles, may we merit, as well, to witness and experience the nissim, purkon, gevuros and teshuos, speedily and in our day.

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  1. I remember learning that the wives would not give their jewelery for the eigel, and therefore the men used their own.
    And the women weren’t refusing because they were too attached to their possessions…

  2. When Reuven makes an egotistical demand of Shimon and no matter how nice Shimon is Reuven still finds something else to criticize about, it is time for Shimon to reassess the root cause of Reuven’s behaviors. There is usually more than meets the eye and Reuven is trying to make Shimon subservient to Reuven so Reuven can pull a well planned trick.

    I was once Shimon and want to warn other potential Shimon’s of this, so others don’t make the same mistake I did.