This week we read Parshas Ki Sisa. The Parsha contains in it the most gripping stories of the entire Torah - the episode of the Sin of the Golden Calf. Certainly there is a tremendous misconception regarding this story. The people who had just lived through the Revelation at Mount Sinai, and been exposed to the greatest closeness to G-d that ever occurred in the history of man, were not looking to become a bunch of savages serving other gods. Nachmanidies explains that the Jewish people themselves were looking for a medium to replace Moses and to lead them, not to worship. That is why when Moses came down and destroyed the Golden Calf no one protested, for the vast majority of Jews never wanted to serve it. The eruv rav, the mixed multitude of people who had joined the Jews when they left Egypt, seized the moment to try to get the Jews to serve this image as a deity. Unfortunately, approximately three thousand Jews did follow them. The entire Jewish people were held accountable for this, as the principle of communal responsibility we have for each other.
When the story began, the Jewish people told Aaron to make for them a God, “for this man Moses who had taken them out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:1) What is the meaning of the words “this man Moses”?
Our Sages teach us that the panic that came upon the Jewish people and caused them to sin, came because of a sight that they saw. The Satan showed them an image of the body of Moses (this man) being carried in heaven to be buried. The Jews who saw this assumed that Moses had died, and now demanded to have a replacement for Moses. This episode and its terrible consequences teach us a couple of most important lessons that can give us strength in all the challenges that we come across in life:
First of all, how could it be? How could the Jews be given such a challenge, where they seemed to see with their own eyes the burial of Moses? Is this fair? Can we expect them to overcome this sight?
The answer is, that a person always must have free will. That means that he or she must have a temptation to do both good and bad. After the tremendous Revelation at Mount Sinai that the Jewish people witnessed, there was no question that they would not sin. To make even the chance for them to sin, they had to be put into a situation where they had a reason to do so. They needed to witness such a powerful thing as the funeral of Moses in order to give them a challenge to possibly sin. If we have a situation where there is something that seems to compel us to sin, we must remember that this very well may be just to provide us a challenge to overcome.
Secondly, we learn from here that even if things seem to be clearly showing us to do something wrong, the message being shown to us must be ignored. The Jewish people were punished and were expected to ignore this powerful scene of the burial of Moses that they witnessed. Even if we see success in the ways of those who forsake the Torah, we must not be swayed to ever leave its ways, or follow those who would mislead us. They may have the Golden Calves of today, but we must stay away from them.