Good and Bad

The k'ruvim in the Holy of Holies were also figures made of gold. The fundamental difference between the golden k'ruvim and the Golden Calf is that one was commanded by God and the other was not. This is an "all-or-nothing" criterion.

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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
The Kuzari's explanation of the sin of the Golden Calf is well known: It was not really idolatry. Although they sinned by creating a graven image (Kuzari, 1:97), those who made the Golden Calf intended to worship God through this physical representation. However, the idea of a physical symbol for the Divine is not completely foreign to the Jewish religion.

The k'ruvim in the Holy of Holies were also figures made of gold. The fundamental difference between the golden k'ruvim and the Golden Calf is that one was commanded by God and the other was not. This is an "all-or-nothing" criterion.

In this sense, the sin of the Golden Calf was a repetition of the sin of Adam and Eve. They, too, certainly wanted to do good and not to sin. Although Adam was of the greatest spiritual stature, he decided that he could establish his own criteria for good and evil. When he decided to eat the forbidden fruit, he in effect "appropriated" the right to decide for himself (see Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim 1:1).

In modern terminology, this is the sin of "humanism" - of giving man and not God the authority to establish the criteria of good and evil. This is what led Adam to sin, according to the Ari, as developed in detail by Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (Nefesh HaChaim I, ch.10); the "unclean spirit", which was the beginning of man's terrible confusion over moral philosophical issues.

At the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Jewish People proclaimed, "We shall do and we shall hearken," (Ex. 24:7) thereby returning to God the mandate over criteria of good and evil, and to the Jewish People the original purity of spirit of the Garden of Eden (Shabbat 89a). We ceased looking for complicated rationalizations, and returned to the simple honest state of Adam and Eve as first created. But with the Sin of the Golden Calf, we again were tainted.

This is a general sin that affects our nation throughout the generations: "And on the day when I punish you, I shall punish." (Exodus 32:34) The sin is diffused throughout the generations (see Sanhedrin 102a).

Since that day, it is incumbent upon us all to cleanse ourselves of this bias and to achieve moral purity. This is what the Prophet Zecharya promises us (13:2): "And the unclean spirit I shall cause to pass from the land."


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