This Parsha this week is Parshas Ki Sisa. In this Parsha we read of one of the most tragic events in the history of the Jewish people: The sin of the Golden Calf. When Moses ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, he told the Jewish people that he would return after 40 days. Moses meant forty full days, beginning with the day after he ascended. The people understood him to mean forty days from the day that he actually went up. On day number 40, a great darkness suddenly filled the sky. An image of a coffin with a figure looking like Moses appeared in the sky, and many of the Jewish people believed that their great leader Moses, who according to their calculations had not returned on the day that he said he would, had died. Panic filled the air as the possibility of being left in the desert without their leader to guide them seemed to them to be very real. An urgent sense of a great need to replace Moses with some other being that would be the medium to guide them how to go further was felt by many of the Jews. The image of an ox is one of the four images on the Divine throne. The Jews demanded of Aaron the high priest (and told them to take a large amount of gold and throw it into a fire. Through a miracle, a golden ox emerged, one that actually moved. The eruv rav, the group of mixed nationalities that had joined the Jewish people when they left Egypt, now seized the moment and tried to convince the Jewish people to serve this Golden calf as a Deity. When Jews did so, (three thousand of them), Hashem told Moses that he had to leave Heaven. Moses went down and when he saw what had happened he threw down the first set of tablets and broke them. Hashem told Moses that He wanted to destroy the Jewish people for “I have seen them and they are a stiff necked people” (Exodus 32:9) Although Moses did succeed in saving the Jewish people, our Sages teach us that to this day there is no punishment that comes upon the Jewish people that doesn’t also carry with it some of the punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf.
When Hashem describes the sin of the Jewish people, He says “they are a stiff necked people”. Why does He use the words describing them as stiff necked? Why doesn’t He just say that they are sinners, that they committed such a serious sin – like idol worship? Isn’t that the serious issue that is apparent here?
What does it mean to be a “stiff necked person”? Our commentaries explain that stiff necked person is someone who is going on his or her way and refuses to turn to someone who calls them, as if their neck is too stiff to turn it. This analogy is applied to someone who made a mistake or sinned and does not want to change from his or her mistake. The amazing and beautiful point that Hashem was telling Moses is that the sin itself that we may have done is not as bad as the attitude and willingness that we must feel and have to improve and correct our behavior. If we are willing to change, to grow, then even a sin as bad as the Golden Calf can be dealt with. If we are not, then there is simply no hope for us.
This lesson carries into life in a very real and important way. There is no question that as human beings we make mistakes; “to err is human” What we do with these mistakes, however, is up to us. Hashem was telling Moses that our responsibility is not to be “stiff necked” but to admit that we have made a mistake and to improve.
Wishing you and your family a Great Shabbos!!!!!