This weeks parsha is Ki Tisa. In it, we read about the famous, or infamous, sin of the golden calf. The obvious question is, how on earth could the Jewish people have done this? They just heard, forty days ago, Hashem speak to them directly. The Torah tells us explicitly that Hashem spoke to the entire nation "face to face" when He gave them the ten commandments!! How could they possibly go and create an idol just 40 days later! In fact, it's even worse…..because what they heard directly from Hashem was the first two of the ten commandments. After that they went to Moshe and said "Listen, Mo, we can't handle listening to Hashem's incredibly loud voice. You get the rest, and tell us what He says." And what is the second of the ten commandments? You shall not have any other gods beside Me.

How could they go and start worshipping idolatery so soon after hearing this!?

Our commentators try to understand this question, and of course the answer begins by looking carefully at what the Torah tells us actually happened, before jumping to conclusions.

To settle for an English translation, the Torah says, when reporting the sin of the golden calf:

"The people saw that Moses had delayed in descending the mountain, and the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, "Rise up, make for us gods that will be before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt – we do not know what became of him!" (Shmot 32:1)

The Ramban explains their mistake as follows: Until now, Moshe had been our point-man in interfacing with God. Now, the Jewish people mistakenly thought he was dead when they thought he should already have come down by now, and so they seeked to create a new intermediary. Not a new god, a new intermediary. The word elohim, translated above as god, that they asked for, can also be translated as meaning a lord, kind of like a boss. That is what they were seeking. But they weren't trying to worship anyone other than Hashem, they just were looking for a good intermediary to help them do this

But what is so wrong with that? Didn't the mishkan, the 'tabernacle' that I wrote about last week, in which we placed the ten commandments, do the same thing? That mishkan later became the center of the temple, with the aron in the middle which was definitely a central focusing point through which we could connect to Hashem. How is this so different? So instead of an ark and cheruvim (you'll have to research what those are yourselves) they made a golden calf – is there really such a big difference?

The Beis Halevy explains it very simply. They didn't necessarily have such a bad idea. We do have intermediaries, that despite our personal, private, direct connection to Hashem, help us focus and connect to our Creator. We need that. It's not always so easy to connect to an All-Powerful God that we don't hear or see. We need all the help we can get. Their mistake was that they thought they could design it themselves instead of following the plan that Hashem had already given them. Instead of building the mishkan and the aron, they made a calf because, for i'm sure a very logical reason, that made more sense to them.

Now we can understand what they did a little better, because we still see people making this mistake nowadays. We think that WE can define the best way to reaching Hashem and living a spiritual life. No one stops to think maybe Hashem knows the best way to connect to Him! I mean, that is the entire reason He created us in the first place – to form and build a connection with someone other than Himself, namely, us. Obviously He has also thought about the best way for that aim to be achieved! When you write up an experiment in science class, the first thing you do is write down the aims, and then the method. It's pretty basic.

Of course Hashem did that. He wrote us a method, and called it the Torah. What does the hebrew word Torah literally mean? It comes from the hebrew word Horaa, which means instruction. The Torah is literally the instruction manual for connecting to God. Why are the Jewish People going and re-writing the instructions? They aren't going to be able to do a better job than the Creator of the Universe! It's so simple, but somehow it seems to take us a long time to learn this lesson. It took me a long time to learn this lesson.

The people who committed the sin of the golden calf had the right idea, but the wrong approach. They wanted to connect to God, but they thought it was best to re-invent the wheel. But the perfect wheel has already been created, and it was given to us thousands of years ago at Mt Sinai. Many of us want to connect to Hashem as well. Before we start re-inventing our own instructions of how best to go about this, let's check out what Hashem recommends.

Shabbat Shalom!

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