Much of the Golden
Calf [eigel hazahav] saga confounds.
Among the classic elements of inquiry are:
What precisely was their sin? b. What role
did Aharon play? c. Why does Moshe break the
tablets? c. Why does Moshe, the greater
defender of the people start by raising the
ante with a proclamation of "you have sinned
a great sin"?
questions must wait for another day; our
focus pointed upon the vexing section of the
eigel hazahav aftermath. First, the
background: Moshe is atop the mountain. God
informs Moshe of the terrible sin: [32:7-10]
"Go down, for your people have become
corrupt--- those whom you brought up out of
the land of Egypt. .. Now leave Me
alone and My wrath will blaze against them
and destroy them. I will then make you into
a great nation."
In defense of Klal
Yisrael, Moshe employs three arguments:
Hashem - these are
the people you brought out of Egypt .. for
What will the
Egyptians say ? [chilul Hashem]
Patriarchshas [zechus avos]
.. and is
Ad-noy reconsidered the [intent of doing]
evil that He had said He would do to His
sees it happening, breaks the
tablets, questions Aharon and implements
Moshe stood at the entrance of the camp and
said, "Whoever is for Ad-noy, [come] to me."
All the sons of Levi gathered around him. He
said .. [the] G-d of Yisrael has said, 'Let
each man put his sword on his hip .. Let
each man kill [even] his brother, each man
his friend, each man his relative. The sons
of Levi did as Moshe said. On that day those
that fell from among the people, numbered
approximately three thousand men.
the breach has been repaired and mission
accomplished. And yet the next day Moshe
turns to the people: [32:30]
Moshe said to the nation: "You have
committed a great sin. Now I will go up to
Ad-noy, perhaps I will gain atonement for
heroically with Hashem, is willing to have
his name blotted out from the book,
before he finally invokes the classic
thirteen attributes of Divine Mercy. So much
needs clarification here. Consider
to the text, 3,000 people sinned [less
than a ¼ of a percent of the adults of
klal Yisrael]. This hardly constitutes a
national sin - And yet Moshe turns to
the nation? Similarly, why does Hashem
say to Moshe that nation sinned?
sinners have been put to death, so
whither teshuva ?
Moshe need to pray again? Didn't Hashem
answer him the first time around?
uses the feminine term for great sin
chata'a gedolah three times here, a
term that repeats itself only one other
time in Tanach
To this we may add
Why do we
find repercussions of the sin till this
A classic Chofetz
Chaim - Rav Schwab story resonates
Rav Schwab spent a Shabbos with the Chofetz
Chaim, zl, in Radin. Friday morning in the
middle of a discussion concerning the
function of Kohanim, the Chafetz Chaim
turned to Rav Schwab and asked, "Are you a
Kohen?" "No," replied Rav Schwab. "Perhaps
you have heard that I am a Kohen," the
Chafetz Chaim said. "Yes, I have heard," Rav
Schwab quietly responded. "Perhaps you are a
Levi?" the Chafetz Chaim asked. "No, I am
not," was Rav Schwab's reply.
"What a shame! Moshiach is coming, and the
Bais Hamikdash will be rebuilt. You will not
be able to perform the avodah, service, in
the Sanctuary. Do you know why? Because
3,000 years ago, dein Zayda, [your
grandfather], is nisht gelafen, [did not run
forward], when Moshe Rabbeinu declared "Mi
l'Hashem eilai!" "Whoever is with Hashem
should come to me!" The next time you hear
the call, "Mi l'Hashem eilai!" come running!
In the Golden Calf
episode, two sins have occurred. The first
sin, that of formal idol worship is Moshe's
immediate task of order. He gains initial
forgiveness for the whole nation and
administers justice. The Golden Calf
instigators are gone.
But two other
groups remain. The levi'im are
heroes. They stood up and out to engage the
unpleasant task of rooting out sinners. They
are rewarded by serving in the Temple. But
what of that third group - those that
neither fought with the Levi'im nor
committed the terrible sin?
For the quiet
spectator, a poignant piece of Talmud
[relating Paroh's Wanesee conference -
dealing with the Jewish problem] informs:
And that is what
R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Simai's name:
Three were involved in that scheme,6 viz.,
Balaam, Job, and Jethro. Balaam, who advised
it, was slain; Job, who was silent, was
punished through suffering; and Jethro, who
fled - his descendants were privileged to
sit in the Hall of Hewn Stones,
Silence in the
face of evil is a sin, not an option.
Western culture might laud the Good
Samaritan, but it does not condemn the
passive onlooker. By contrast, a Jew in name
and in halacha [do not stand idly over thy
brother's blood] - is compelled to stand up!
This great sin of
omission, that chat'ah gedolah, a
passive [feminine] sin required a new
ma'aseh kaparah [act of atonement] for
the bulk of the Jewish people who did
nothing. That sin of omission revealed a
fundamental misunderstanding of Jewish
ethics. To the extent that we are quiet in
deed and expressionless in prayer in the
face of other's pain, the sin of the Golden
Calf lingers on
One final note:
Iyov is punished with yissurin
suffering for being silent. Why? What could
Iyov have accomplished - certainly Paroh's
decree was a fait accompli. Based upon a
poignant midrash, the Brisker Rav explained
G-d brings upon Iyov terrible suffering.
Iyov cries out to G-d and complains. Why do
you cry - says God aren't you the who chose
not to raise your voice to Paroh? Why do you
cry now? - "Because it hurts"
Pain is reflexive.
If I feel it, I express it. My silence in
the face of the other's pain [be it man's or
God's - keviyachol] reflects a chasm.
Silence also is an expression, an ultimate
statement of insensitivity.
Let our sincere
cries evoke the Divine voice of redemption,
speedily in our days.
Good Shabbos - Asher Brander
 Cf. Rashi Ramban what
the book is. To Rashi, it is the
Torah, for Ramban it is the Book of
Eternal Life. cf. Reflections Ki
Thus Iyov's punishment stirred him
to react in a manner that in turn
demonstrated the error of his
failure to raise his voice in
protest against Pharaoh's heinous
Bringing to mind Pastor Martin
Niemoller's haunting words: " In
Germany they first came for the
Communists, and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a Communist. Then
they came for the Jews, and I didn't
speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade
unionists, and I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was
a Protestant. Then they came for me
- and by that time no one was left
to speak up."