First, some opening remarks:
On Tuesday, my Rabbi and teacher, the revered and holy Kabbalist, Rabbi Eliahu Leon Levi, shlita, journeyed with students to Meron for an all-night tikun at the tomb of the exalted Tzaddik, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, composer of the Zohar, to pray on behalf of the Jewish People. As has happened on many occasions, badly needed rain began to fall immediately, watering the thirsty fields, filling the Kinneret, and forcing immodestly dressed women to flee from the streets of our Land. If only it would rain all summer!
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In a blink of the eye, the week has passed, Shabbat is almost upon us, and we haven’t found time to mention this past week's Torah portion. According to Rabbi Levi, this super acceleration of time teaches that the Mashiach is near. As the cycle of Redemption approaches its climax, the inner spiritual mechanisms which power existence all speed up like the frantic finale of a washing machine’s finishing spin. So before Shabbat arrives, let’s take a retrospective look at the infamous sin of the Golden Calf.
Our Sages teach us that we should strive to find, in our Torah learning, practical applications in our lives. This is part of the advice that the Ramban gives in his famous letter to his son, regarding the acquirement of the proper character traits. This being the case, what can we, the Jewish Nation in the Land of Israel today, learn from the incident of the Golden Calf?
Even though this examination may give the critics of Israel ammunition in their arsenal of excuses for wallowing in galut, we present it in order to face our problems, so that we can fix them. We are not afraid to address our shortcomings, understanding that the purpose of life in this world is to work toward perfection and tikun.
Rabbi Kook writes: “If not for the sin of the Golden Calf, the nations who dwelt in the Land of Israel would have made peace with Israel and surrendered to them, for the Name of G-d that would have been called on Israel would have awakened within them the awe of Divine exaltation, and no form of war would have been waged, and Israel’s influence upon them would have taken peaceful paths as in the Messianic era. Only, due to sin, the process was postponed by thousands of years” (“Orot,” Chapter on War, Essay 4).
After the world-rectifying revelation of G-d on Mount Sinai, the Nation of Israel should have journeyed straight to Jerusalem, peacefully establishing the Kingdom of G-d in the world. Crowned by the Torah, we should have filled the hearts of mankind with such an exalted fear and reverence for G-d, that no nation would have dared wage war against us. But the incident of the Golden Calf, while Moshe Rabainu was still on the mountain receiving the Law, had a profound psychological effect on the world. The spectacular revelation of G-d at the Red Sea was suddenly blemished and dimmed. G-d’s Name in the world, as it appears in the life of the Nation of Israel, was horribly disgraced. Israel’s exalted standing was damaged, and our moral force and supremacy collapsed. In our fallen state, in the eyes of the nations, we were just like them. Thus, instead of the red carpet that should have awaited us upon entering the Land of Israel, we now had to fight in order to claim our inheritance. Because of the Golden Calf, we lacked the absolute moral authority to make the seven nations in Canaan peacefully understand that for the benefit of the world, the Land of Israel must belong to the Jews. Instead of seeing G-d’s chosen nation on earth, they looked at us as if to say, "You are sinners too – why should we give up this land to you?”
Thus, when we come to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf, we must uproot the sexual transgression, murder, and idol worship that still exists in our midst
In order to understand the implication of the Golden Calf for us today, we have to take a closer look at the sin itself. In describing the shameful event, the verse says, “they rose to make merry” (Shemot, 32:6). Rashi explains, “This implies sexual wrongdoing and murder, for here Hur was killed.” G-d tells Moshe to go down from the Mountain, “For thy people have dealt corruptly.” The Hebrew word for dealing corruptly, “sheechate,” also has the meaning of sexual transgression, as it appears regarding the sin of the generation of the Flood, “for all flesh had corrupted it ways on the earth” (Bereshit, 6:12. See also, Zohar, Bereshit 61b). This is also the case regarding the sin of spilling seed of Er and Onan, as it says, “When he went into his brother’s wife, he spilled it (sheechate) on the ground” (Bereshit, 38:9). This teaches that the merriment surrounding the Golden Calf came from sexual corruption. While the main perpetrators in the crime were the “Eruv Rav,” the non-Jewish riffraff of the nations that came out of Egypt with the Jews, when the festivities started, we didn’t do what we should have to protest.
Thus, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that the main sin of the Golden Calf was sexual transgression (“Likutei Halachot,” Yom Kippur, 1). “For the forgiveness that Moshe won for the Jews was actually over transgressions to the Brit, for the sin of the Golden Calf was over sexual misconduct, as our Sages have taught us - the Jewish People only worshiped idols to provide an excuse for publicly engaging in sexual licentiousness” (Sanhedrin 63A). The “Sfat Emet” also writes that the main atonement of Yom Kippur is over sexual transgression, for “On Yom Kippur, Moshe won G-d’s forgiveness over the sexual sins of the people at the time of the Golden Calf” (“Sfat Emet,” Yom Kippur, 5656).
Thus, when we come to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf, we must uproot the sexual transgression, murder, and idol worship that still exists in our midst. That there is a problem today in Israel regarding sexual wrongdoing is certainly no secret. The problem is ubiquitous, from the prostitution in Tel Aviv, to the immodesty in our shopping malls, to the smut on our computers and televisions, to the misbehavior of public officials. Considering that the G-d of Israel hates immorality and is more zealous over sexual transgression than anything else, this is a distressing state of affairs that does not bring us honor, nor peace. As it states in the Zohar: “Rabbi Shimon said, There is nothing in the world that so arouses the zealousness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu as the sin of transgressing the Brit, as is says, ‘And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge my Brit’” (Zohar, Bereshit 66b. Vayikra, 26:25).
Regarding murder, a day hardly passes in Israel without hearing a radio report about a Jew killing some other Jew. And while the actual worship of idols doesn’t exist, anything that deviates from the path of the Torah, including our fascination with Western culture, smacks of foreign worship.
Therefore, as Rabbi Kook’s teaching implies, if we want to settle the Land of Israel in a peaceful fashion, without endless wars, the answer does not lie in territorial concessions, G-d forbid, nor in the signing of treaties, but rather in healing the ills of our society. Only in that way, can we return to our exalted glory and moral stature, and thus cast the fear of G-d on the nations around us, and upon the modern-day Canaanites in our midst. “As a result, everyone who sees the Jews will recognize that they are the seed blessed of G-d, and the world will be perfected in peace” (“Orot,” loc.cited).