KrakowskiBy Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
The Chet HaEgel (Sin of the Golden Calf) recounted in this week’s Sedra is so multifaceted and complex that it is a virtually inexhaustible subject of discussion. Aside from the inherent complexities of this fiasco there are some technical difficulties. The Torah tells us that after the infamous “Golden Calf” emerged from the oven “they” said: “These are your gods Israel who took you out of Egypt”. With this declaration there is the obvious difficulty: if they made only one golden calf how did it come instantly to be multiple gods? Secondly who were the “they”? (See Rashi, Klei Yakar, and Baal Haturim.)
On a different note there is the big question of how Aharon HaKohen (who would seem to have been somewhat responsible – even if inadvertently – for this entire horrible episode) could escape seemingly unpunished? This question is yet further amplified by the fact that all the participants were killed even if they did so thinking that it was with Aharon Hakohen’s approval.
The Mefarshim explain (see Rashi, Klei Yakar, and Iban Ezra) that it is obvious from the psukim that it was really the Eirev Rav (the Egyptian tag-alongs) who were here the key players and initiators. They suggest this as an answer to the question of who the “they” is.
Once it is clear that the Eirev Rav were the ones responsible for the idea as well as for a good part of the actual creation of this Golden Calf, we can start to put into perspective the rest of the of the episode.
The Egyptians worshiped multiple gods; therefore it was a natural terminology to use the plural gods as a description of the golden calf. The Egyptian culture embraced the idea of many gods and this was somehow the interpretation of the Eirav Rav regarding the Golden Calf. It is thus evident from the fact that the Eirav Rav had become not mere tag alongs, but rather a significant element who had a say with Klal-Yisroel, that they had become in this incident quite powerful figures who had in essence taken charge. Klal-Yisroel fell prey to this mob mentality and they were beginning to like this idolatrous culture – to find in it somehow some sort of comfort.
This was where Am-Yisroel erred. In the entire Parsha of the Golden Calf there is no debate as to whether or not it was the right thing to do; whether or not it made any sense. Instead of taking a moment to think if this whole Egel HaZahav was right, instead of contemplating it, or debating it, they fell prey to some sort of mass hysteria. Klal-Yisroel was thus punished for this lack of contemplation and thinking. A nation that just witnessed Yetzias Mitzraim and Kabbolas HaTorah should have been able to realize the invalidity of such societies. The proof that Am-Yisroel fell prey is that the incoherent call of the Eirav-Rav of “these are your gods” was accepted.
Aharon, however, didn’t. Aharon Hakohen told Am-Yisroel to bring their Jewelry. The Meforshim explain he hoped that they would be reluctant. He then ordered them to melt it also on the assumption that it would take some time to be able to melt and shape so much gold. Once the Calf emerged from the oven he delayed displaying it yet another day. Each of these delays also represented another opportunity for people to reconsider and stop their ill-conceived, impulsive action. While Aharon HaKohen may have allowed the creation of this abomination he nonetheless was trying to stall. He was trying to appease the mob by buying time. Aharon HaKohen took the right perspective; Aharon Hakohen refused to be rushed into sinning. He tried to at least delay it and to buy time to stop it.
From the contrast between Aharon HaKohen and the multitudes of Am-Yisroel we learn a tremendous Yesod in Avodas Hashem: sometimes the Yetzer Horah may seem impossible to overcome. Perhaps sometimes it may be almost impossible to overcome the Yetzer Horah. But if we directly fall prey and don’t even attempt to run away or at least push off the Yetzer Horah then we are complete failures; if we at least attempt to veer away from it then we have actually already won.
A very Warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski