By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
February 22, 2003
Those who sinned with the golden calf have been punished, yet
all has not been restored to its original state, when the entire nation were
on such a spiritual level as to be worthy to hear the first two commandments
directly from Hashem and proclaimed, “We will do and we will listen!” In the
aftermath of the transgression, a rift in the relationship between Hashem and
His people is revealed.
And Hashem told Moshe, “Go, go up from this [place], you and the people (HA’AM)
that you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land that I swore to
Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, saying, ‘To your seed will I give it’
and I will send an angel before you, and I will expel the Canaanite, the
Emorite and the Perizzite, the Hivvite and the Yevusite to a land flowing
with milk and honey; because I will not go up in your midst, because you are a
stiff-necked people (AM), lest I destroy you on the way.” And the people (HA’AM)
heard this bad thing and they grieved, and they did not place, each man his
ornament, upon him. And Hashem said to Moshe, “Say to the Children of Israel (BNEI
YISRAEL): ‘You are a stiff-necked people (AM); [if] in one moment I do go up
in your midst I will destroy you. And now, remove your ornament from upon you,
and I will know what I will do to you.”’ And the Children of Israel (BNEI
YISRAEL) removed their ornament from Mount Chorev. And Moshe would take the
Tent and pitch it outside the camp, far from the camp, and he called it the
Tent of Meeting; and it was, that anyone who sought Hashem would go out to the
Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp. And it was, that as Moshe would
leave for the Tent, all the people (KOL HA’AM) would rise and stand, each one
at the opening of his tent, and watch after Moshe until he came to the Tent.
And it was, as Moshe came to the Tent, that the pillar of cloud would descend
and stand at the opening of the Tent and He would speak with Moshe. And all
the people (KOL HA’AM) saw the pillar of cloud standing at the opening of the
Tent, and all the people (KOL HA’AM) stood and they prostrated themselves,
each one at the opening of his tent. And Hashem would speak to Moshe face to
face, as a man speaks to his friend, and he would return to the camp. And his
attendant, Yehoshua son of Nun, assistant, did not move from within the Tent (Shemot
A number of questions arise:
• If Hashem is still liable to destroy His people, would it not be better to
wait until relations are less strained before departing for the Promised Land?
• What news causes the people to grieve?
• If the people did not put on their ornaments, why does Hashem command the
people to remove them?
• What is the role of Yehoshua?
• What has happened to the command to build the Mishkan, which was interrupted
by the narrative about the golden calf?
Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877) begins by asserting that
the command to build the Mishkan was given to Moshe during the forty days
between the Revelation and the sin. (This is in line with Ramban, rather than
Rashi.) Now, however, there is no point in building the Mishkan, for Hashem no
longer desires to bring His intimate Presence into their midst. They will
enter the Land without delay, but only because of Moshe’s merit, and Hashem’s
oath to the Patriarchs.
Hashem reassures them, however, that He will not abandon them entirely, but
will send His angel a lower level of Divine Providence to guarantee
success in conquest and the material blessings of the land. But, it is to
their advantage that Hashem withdraws, for as long as He is in close
connection with them, He will respond immediately and severely to their
obdurate and uncooperative ways.
Malbim refers to R. Yehudah Halevi’s (c. 1075-1141) explanation in the Kuzari
(I:97), that the Children of Israel misunderstood that they required a
tangible image in order to bring Hashem’s Presence into their midst. They
waited for Moshe
“clad in the same apparel in which they had witnessed the drama on Sinai,
without removing their jewels or changing their clothes, remaining just as he
left them, expecting every moment to see him return.”
When Moshe failed to return, they made the calf as a physical means of
bringing Hashem among them.
When they are punished for this fundamental error, they grieve for their lost
hope. The common people (HA’AM) therefore remove their ornaments, but the
leaders (BNEI YISRAEL), who had not joined in the sin, still expect Hashem’s
indwelling. However, because they bear the responsibility for not correcting
the people, they must join in the national mourning.
“when the Godly light departs from the Israelite body, the masses will feel it
. . . first, and the nobility and the prophets will feel it last . . . And
Moshe . . . knew that the Presence would not alight upon him too, as long as
he was within the camp.”
He, therefore, relocates the Tent of Meeting for all those who,
notwithstanding Hashem’s withdrawal, seek Him.
By watching Moshe closely, these seekers after Hashem are touched by a lesser
spirit of holiness, as well as awe before Hashem, as exemplified by Moshe’s
attendant Yehoshua. The people thus learn that the way to bring Hashem into
their midst is to see Moshe not as an intermediary, but as a role model. The
repercussions of the golden calf have faded, and the people are now ready to
build the Mishkan with the correct understanding of its function in the
projected commonwealth of Israel.
It is when we pursue Hashem, though He hides Himself from us, that we create a
world of holiness.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
|Parshat Ki Tisa
Moshe Rabeinu's response to the sin of the golden calf
seems almost as surprising as the sin itself. Moshe smashes luchot at the
foot of the mountain, and then rallies the Levi'im to slay their brothers
and friends. Rav Kook (Orot Hakodesh 2, 21) derives an important lesson
from Moshe's behavior: although under normal circumstances holiness is a
constructive force, which fosters growth through positive actions, there
are times when an act of 'holy destruction' is called for.
Rav Kook explains that this lesson is relevant to each and every person as
he navigates his way through life's concerns. A person who is not
wholeheartedly committed to seeking out "the light of good and truth,"
will choose the comfort one experiences when clinging to familiar ground,
never questioning well worn beliefs and opinions. Moshe's act of 'holy
destruction' teaches us that in order to achieve the highest level one can
attain, maintaining the status quo is not enough. One must be willing to
lay physical and spiritual well being at risk, 'smashing' outdated
elements of the self, thus preparing the ground for the building of a more
It is time to surpass the status quo. It is time to listen to the voice of
God as it calls to us through the unfolding of Jewish history in our time:
"Come home, come home to the land where the Jewish people can truly build
a sacred nation."
Avi Roness, Ramat Beit Shemesh
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320