Leadership and Leaders

This week's Dvar Torah is by David Prichen - former Shaliach in Chicago (2008-2010), works and studies in IAI.

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At first glance, it seems that the sin of the golden calf is a straightforward example of idolatry. What act can possibly be more blatant then             worshiping a hand-made golden statue and dancing around it, stating -

אֵלֶּה אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם  (שמות ל"ב ח')

These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!

However, a deeper look in the Chumash (Torah text) might give a different understanding, and a fresh insight. In fact, the more you read this chapter, the more you understand that it wasn’t Hashem that Bnei Yisrael tried to exchange with the golden calf.

Let us start with a deeper analysis of the reasoning behind this sin. The Torah opens the chapter with following words:

(וַיַּרְא הָעָם, כִּי-בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן-הָהָר; וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל-אַהֲרֹן... כִּי-זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה-הָיָה לוֹ (שמות ל"ב א'

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron… As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him”.

Clearly, what triggers the request from Aaron is not a lack of faith in Hashem, rather a true concern regarding Moses. Therefore, the golden calf was not meant to be a replacement for G-d, so to speak, rather a new leader to substitute the missing Moses. When they state that the golden calf is the G-d who brought them out of the land of Egypt, they do not refer to Hashem, but to his messenger. The issue here is the position of Moses, not that of Hashem.

This explanation might also shed some light on the roots of this sin. Even prior to the sin, there was a false understanding of the position of Moses. The existential fear from losing the human leader which guided them from the days they were still enslaved by the Egyptians, together with the statement that Moses is the one who took them out of Egypt, as mentioned in the above verses, demonstrate the roots of the sin. The essence of the sin is not the request itself, “make us gods who shall go before us”, but the reasoning of it – “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt…”

Am Yisrael mistakenly identified Moses as their redeemer, separating the messenger from its sender. The risk of sending someone on your behalf, and  giving him major responsibilities, is that people might forget who stands behind the messenger. That is also seems to be what Hashem argues towards Moses:

(וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל-מֹשֶׁה:  לֶךְ-רֵד--כִּי שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם (שמות ל"ב ז'

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves”

Says Hashem – it is not I who redeemed Am Yisrael from Egypt, but you, Moses. This is the what the sin is all about. Moses, however, argues against this very point, saying:

(וַיְחַל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-פְּנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָה ה' יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם... (שמות ל"ב י"א

But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt”

It is not I, says Moses. It is you.

The role of Moses in particular, and leaders of the Jewish people in general, relate to this basic point. The leader is supposed to be the bond between the nation and their G-d. The concept of central leadership, and the leaders themselves, must lead to the notion that the messenger was sent by someone.

Torah MiTzion (see their dynamic website) was established in 1995 with the goal of strengthening Jewish communities around the globe and infusing them with the love for Torah, the Jewish People and for the State of Israel. Over the past eighteen years Torah MiTzion has recruited, trained and dispatched more than one thousand 'shlichim' (emissaries) to Jewish communities in countries spanning five continents and impacted Jewish communities with an inspiring model of commitment to both Judaism and Zionism.