Lessons for today from the golden calf

Dr. Joseph Frager on Parshat Ki Tisa: Lessons for today from the golden calf and the rebellion by the mixed multitude (Eirev Rav).

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Dr. Joseph Frager,

Dr. Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager
Arutz Sheva

In retrospect it is inconceivable that after being freed from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and receiving the Ten Commandments, that the Jews could fall into the abyss and make a golden calf.

How did it happen and what are the lessons for today? Unfortunately, if we don't learn those lessons we could, G-d forbid, fall prey to the problem that existed 3400 years ago. "He took it from their hands and he bound it in a scarf and made it into a molten calf; then they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the Land of Egypt'" (Exodus 32:4).

"Aaron saw and built an altar before him: Aaron called out and said, 'A festival to Hashem (G-d) tomorrow'"(Exodus 32:5). Rashi comments on the words, "These are YOUR gods." It does not say "These are OUR gods." From here we see that it was the Eirav Rav (the mixed multitude) that had ascended from Egypt who gathered around Aaron and prevailed upon him to participate in making the calf. They were the ones who made it and afterwards they led Israel astray after it. This is what we today must be on the lookout for at all times. Rashi later says on the posuk (verse), "Hashem spoke to Moshe (Moses): 'Go descend, for YOUR nation that you have brought up from Egypt has degenerated'" (Exodus 32:7).

It does not say, "the nation has degenerated" but rather "YOUR nation" referring to the Eirav Rav whom Moshe accepted on his own and converted, but did not consult G-d about, became degenerate and caused degeneracy in others. The Zohar HaKodesh on Parshat Ki Tisa (190b) states, "Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe: 'Do not receive them.' Moshe in his compassion said, 'Sovereign of the Universe, now that they have seen Your power, they desire to accept our faith, let them see Your power every day, and they will learn that there is no G-d like you.'"

The Eirav Rav were derived from the upper echelons of Egyptian society (the aristocracy) including the "magicians" and sorcerers in Egypt who converted to Judaism after witnessing the greatness of Moshe and Aaron. They were not "primitive," illiterate people. These people were smart and manipulative. They were part of Pharaoh's "Cabinet." They were now reverting to their old ways and were obviously strong enough and influential enough to cause the fist major rebellion in Jewish history.

They killed Hur, son of Miriam, in open rebellion. They waited to the 40th day from Moshe's departure, when his absence was felt the greatest (they supposedly miscalculated by one day). Hence Aaron says "A Festival to Hashem tomorrow" (32:5) to start their coup d'etat. They knew exactly what they were doing. Hur tried to stop them so was killed. Others should have joined Hur. Where were they? Not enough tried to stop the Eirav Rav, so we were all punished. That too is a lesson for today. If not for Moshe's intervention and prayer for the Jewish People, G-d would have annihilated us because of the Eirav Rav. "Hashem said to Moshe, 'I have seen this people and behold! It is a stiff-necked people'"(Exodus 32:9).

"And now desist from Me! Let My anger burn against them and I shall annihilate them; and I shall make you a great nation" (Exodus 32:10). Turns out the Eirav Rav is the Children of Israel's greatest enemy. The Eirav Rav unfortunately, has caused the Jewish People great suffering through the millennia. We must be vigilant in identifying the Eirav Rav in every generation. The Zohar (97a) says, "All the exiles and the destruction of both Temples and all the suffering, all of it came through Moshe's acceptance of the Eirav Rav, and all the wicked people and evildoers in each generation come from them, meaning from their souls, for they are reincarnations of those who left Egypt and this is what the Gemara (Talmud) Beitza 32 refers to: "They come from the Eirev Rav."

The Raaya Mehemna-Sefer HaZohar states emphatically, "The Eirav Rav delays the Redemption much more than all the nations of the world." The Eirav Rav is a great barrier to progress. It is not so far-fetched to say that had the right Israeli government been in power in 1967, the Redemption would have occurred already.

The Eirev Rav of our generation, like so many before, stymied our progress and prevented us from reaching our full spiritual development. The Vilna Gaon in Sefer Even Shleima (Chapter 8) says there are five types of Eirav Rav in existence today: 1)Those who create strife and speak lashon hara (evil speech). 2)Those who pursue their desires like prostitution. 3)The swindlers who pretend to be pious but their hearts are not straight. 4)Those who pursue honor and build great edifices to make a name for themselves. 5)Those who pursue money and strife. Rav Yehonatan Eybeschutz in Derush 15 says that there is no jealousy for the Name of G-d anymore and instead everybody worries about his money and honor. Rav Eybeschutz is lamenting the fact that Jews are no longer doing things lishma (for G-d's sake).

Others say in the same vein that due to our many sins, we have joined with the Eirav Rav who want to rule over the public, and all their actions are only for their own sake, to acquire honor and money. One should therefore only join with those who truly serve Hashem who sacrifice themselves to Him not in order to receive any benefits. The Vilna Gaon goes on further to say in Likutim HaGra, "And they are called Eirev Rav, because they are the heads (leaders) of the Jews and therefore are called "RAV."

The nightmare called the Oslo Accords is a good example of the Jewish People being led astray by our own leaders. The point is that the very same pathology that caused the Eirav Rav to force the golden calf upon the Jewish People 3400 years ago continues to force the Jewish People in the wrong direction and prevent us from realizing our full potential today. The Vilna Gaon and Rav Eybeschutz focus on the leaders who do not work for G-d but work for themselves. The Redemption will come when enough Jews can overcome this pathology and defeat the Eirav Rav. Shabbat Shalom