The Tragic Calf and its consequences

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With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham

 

Please Note: On this page I will show the four letter blessed *“Memorial Name” of the Almighty in Ivrit - - Y-H-V-H, which we usually pronounce as “Adonai” or “HaShem”. At all times treat the most blessed Name with sanctity and when we even see the Name, we should say “blessed be His Sanctified Name.”

 

*This is My Name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” Shemot - Exodus 3:15.

 

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Let us learn a powerful lesson from Sefer (Book of) Exodus - - Shemot

 

On this site I will mostly use a version based on the “Jewish Publication Society” Tanakh (JPS)

In the yearly cycle of Torah readings, we approach the last chapters of Exodus with caution.

On the one hand, we celebrate the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle being the recently freed Israelites’ first shared spiritual project. Every hook, board and piece of embroidery is described at length, the details reinforcing the long journey from servitude to the eventual culmination of the building of a wonderful new sacred space representing the nexus of the Divine-human partnership with our Elohim, blessed be He.

Whilst on the other hand, there is also another part of our national development that was accompanied by something we much rather prefer to put well behind us, but there is a reason it remains there in Sefer Shemot, for it is there to remind us how easy it is to forget in a short space of time how Great our Elohim is and what He has done for us, and I do mean for you and me, yes for us ALL!

Although, He punished Mitzrayim (Egypt) and we were finally free from their long and evil slavery, yet after such a short time of freedom B’nei Yisrael - - the ‘Children of Israel’ so quickly forgot all what Elohim had done for them, and whilst Moshe Rabbeinu was up on Har Sinai the people somehow decided and ended up to build a golden calf, and sadly they worshipped it. And why did they do this? All because of Moshe not having returned fast enough for them. But what saddens me most is that sadly somehow Acharon - Aaron who should have known better, decided to play a part in this creation.

“And when the people saw that Moshe delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Acharon - Aaron, and said unto him: ‘Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moshe, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.' And Acharon said unto them: ‘Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.’ And all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: ‘This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’ And when Acharon saw this, he built an altar before it; and Acharon made proclamation, and said: ‘To-morrow shall be a feast to .’ And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to make merry. And spoke unto Moshe - Moses: ‘Go, get thee down; for thy people, that thou broughtest up out of the land of Egypt, have dealt corruptly’” Shemot - Exodus 32: 1-7 - (JPS version of the Torah).

Tragically this was merely a replay type of idolatry that took place in Mitzrayim and sadly many of Yisroel had gone astray and fallen far from Elohim and practiced pagan worship. But, after the great miracles shown by Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, it had no place in the lives of B’nei Yisrael, for they now had the opportunity to have new lives and uphold spiritual monogamy. And yet with all what Elohim had done for them, the plagues, the parting of the sea, the daily manna, somehow it was still not enough to achieve an exclusive relationship. All it took for them to go so far astray to return to paganism was for Moshe to be absent for too long.

I have heard rabbis say that in context, this act of audacity was perhaps understandable. Excuse me; tell how you figure that out rabbi? This was their remarkable reply;

“Well they had not long enjoyed their spiritual freedom, thus it was very new to them and it gave them a new kind of responsibility, the weight of it simply was very isolating. And that is why Moses’ temporary disappearance on Mount Sinai was enough to trigger deep-seated uncertainty about life with the invisible Elohim”.

How long do we think all the events took from Moshe and Acharon first asking the Pharaoh “Let My People go” to the actual departure? The Midrash suggests it could be up to a year, but it could also be as short as around three months. The point is this, so many miracles occurred in whatever time it took, and they were not little unnoticed miracles, but huge miracles, not just little ones, and they obviously affected the entirety of Mitzrayim, but not a single Hebrew was affected. Then the final miracle at Pesach was, that the evil Pharaoh finally allowing us to go.

But, did you realise that there was one other miracle, it is one that we tend to completely forget! If this miracle had not happened, we would have left as a poor nation, but remember, when B’nei Yisrael departed Mitzrayim, we left with huge great riches, a huge amount of gold and silver and so much more; for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, made sure of it! For He said;

“And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. And it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty; but every woman shall ask of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment; and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians’” Shemot – Exodus 3: 21-22 - (JPS version of the Torah).

We need to understand that our people were tragically living as a nation as slaves for so many years and thus they knew no other kind of life, thus when they departed, they did so not just with more than freedom which our Elohim, blessed be He, had given them, but He also ensured that they also departed with a great deal of wealth!

Thus rabbis, these people could not so easily change their faith from the Elohim who had done so much for them and all those miracles, and what ensured they could cross the sea and escape the Egyptian army, and then swallowed them up and kept them safe. Yet all too soon they “murmured”

How massive was it that on the other side of the Red Sea the miracles continued for Elohim, blessed be He, continued with the amazing miracles for He not only provided “manna from heaven”, also “quails”, and a little later at “Rephidim” water was given by the means of a rock.

“And spoke unto Moshe, saying: ‘I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel. Speak unto them, saying: At dusk ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread (Heb - “Le’chem”); and ye shall know that I am your Elohim.’ And it came to pass at even, that the quails came up, and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew round about the camp Shemot – Exodus 16: 11-13 - (JPS version of the Torah).

“And the people thirsted there (at Rephidim) for water; and the people murmured against Moshe, and said: ‘Wherefore hast thou brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?’ And Moshe cried unto , saying: ‘What shall I do unto this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ And said unto Moshe: ‘Pass on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thy hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moshe did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.”

And we all know well Israel all ate and drank and they saw these miracles between the departure from Egypt and the time they were at the Mount when Moshe was receiving the “Ten Commandments” - “Aseret ha-Dibrot”.

Now Rabbis, ask yourselves the question, how long was it between departure and Mount Sinai? Now well all know the answer, for do we not have a wonderful Yom Tov that we celebrate, or is that a fake, I do NOT THINK SO! Yes it is Shavuot and that was not that long after Pesach, and a good number of miracles occurred from between Pesach and Mt. Sinai, thus your logic is sadly, well I will be kind, is simply wrong!

Thus with the Rabbi’s having stated that they worshiped the golden calf was mostly because …

“… they had not long enjoyed their spiritual freedom, thus it was very new to them and it gave them a new kind of responsibility, the weight of it simply was very isolating. And that is why Moses’ temporary disappearance on Mount Sinai was enough to trigger deep-seated uncertainty about life with the invisible Elohim”.

That is called rabbis attempting to justify everything, including that cult-like “Chabad-Lubavitch Movement” who continue to worship and pray to their dead leader, rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and they state on a card which they hand out around the globe and in Yisroel “This is the God Mashiach”.

As we look at that evil card above and we will realise how fickle we humans can be, even though they have come to know the Great Elohim, and witnessed His mighty miracles, and our people have been part of the amazing Exodus, saw the sea made perfect to walk to the other side. To have Manna provided as well as the fowl of the air, and then just because Moshe had not returned as yet, they wanted to worship another god, and they created a pagan Golden Calf. And sadly that is what the Lubavitcher’s have done with this rabbi, he has become their Golden Calf. Some will tell you that they do not believe he is the messiah, etc, but why is it that 1. they all pray to him. 2. that the Rabbi in our city, as I believe all Chabadnic’s has this giant photograph of him hanging in his home in a place that everyone that enters sees it. As far as I am concerned it is a “graven image”!

When Moshe heard what was going on down there, like the faithful man he was, well let as read more what is written;

“And said unto Moshe: ‘I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people. Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moshe besought his Elohim, and said: ‘, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, that Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people. Remember Avraham, Yitzchak - Isaac, and Yisroel - Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou didst swear by Thine own self, and saidst unto them: I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.' And repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people!” Shemot – Exodus 32: 9-14 - (JPS version of the Torah).

Just imagine for a moment the scene that Moshe - Moses witnessed as he descended the mountain. Sefer (Book of) Exodus - Shemot sadly describes most of our people Yisroel were caught up in a mutinous free-for-all, kind of violent out of control and unstoppable rabble to put it nicely. Moshe waited a day, but then his reaction was swift and unambiguous after the punishment upon the three thousand guilty ones:

“And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moshe said unto the people: ‘Ye have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto , peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin.’ And Moshe returned unto , and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them a god of gold. Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.’ And said unto Moshe: ‘Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book’”. Shemot – Exodus 32: 30-33 - (JPS version of the Torah).

With Moshe being ever the leader he named their wrongdoing and then took responsibility for seeking forgiveness. No doubt he was angry and disappointed, perhaps even with himself for not recognizing that their faith might have been too fragile that his absence would lead to recidivism. But he was committed. He understood the power of a covenant that should not be shaken.

When Moshe approached Elohim, he named the sin and offered to every leader who followed a model of integrity: Name the wrongdoing and don’t try to couch it in ambiguous language. But then Moshe behaves in a way that his new congregation would never have expected, telling Elohim: “Now, if You will forgive their sin; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written.”

“Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.’ And said unto Moses: ‘Whosoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book. And now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee; behold, Mine angel shall go before thee; nevertheless in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them. And smote the people, because they made the calf” Shemot – Exodus 32: 32-35 - (JPS version of the Torah).

It is as if Moshe is saying to Elohim: My people have sinned, but they are still my people. If they are erased, then I am erased. We must see the construction of the Mishkan through so that these lapses do not happen again. We must build a home together where You, Elohim, can dwell to strengthen this nascent covenant.

Moshe sought to turn regret into improvement. And isn’t that the most basic human project, and believe me, building a portable Mishkan is certainly far harder to construct than just an altar.

Have you ever thought about regret, and the power of it? Sometimes, if we look backward, it actually can move us forward. Indeed, we should understand that can learn from our mistakes! We should also realise that moral regrets tend to last the longest, for often they are rooted in betrayals, deceptions and sadly they can be due to infidelities. But regrets can also be harnessed and help you to fuel improvement. The truth is if we will only understand the errors we have made and straighten up, we can reverse our lives and reveal what we value the most and if we will only place our faith in Elohim our Creator first and foremost and build our lives on being a good and an active Jew. Believe me, you will be so much more successful and will not be tempted and fail as sadly the Israel of those days of old did at the foot of Har Sinai! But I am so aware that there is so much evil in the world today, so much temptation, and our world is in a mighty mess. Believe me that is a greater reason to get back to the Torah and stay fast in our faith, for this world is going from bad to worse, and almost everything is now permitted and is considered as being just fine, but it is not according our Elohim, please remember that governments are not on His side, and the world is becoming more and more evil.

Please remember to say the “Shema Yisroel” twice per day!

 

Please Note: We refuse to use what is actually proven in the Torah/Tanakh to be a pagan word ‘god’ as it is actually a name of a pagan deity, In Ivrit it is “Elohim” or “El” which is NOT a Name, but an attribute, being what and who Our Creator is, blessed be He! But we must always use it with great love and reverence! I have used ‘HaShem’ for your sake.

“Hear, O Israel: HaShem our Elohim, HaShem is ONE. And thou shalt love HaShem thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates” Devarim - Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 - (JPS version of the Torah).

Thus to conclude; what we regret shows what we value. Moshe wanted Elohim to know that he still valued his people so that Elohim could still value them. Moshe wanted the people to experience regret so they could renew their energy for what they truly valued.

He was, in essence, saying to Elohim:

“It is not my distance that is the problem. It is Your distance. The people are afraid of You. They have witnessed Your overwhelming power. They have seen You bring the greatest empire the world has ever known to its knees. They have seen You turn sea into dry land, send down food from heaven and bring water from a rock. When they heard Your voice at Mount Sinai, they came to me to beg me to be an intermediary” …

“And they said unto Moshe: ‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die’” Shemot 20: 16 - (JPS version of the Torah).

… “Thus they made a Calf not because they wanted to worship an idol, but because they wanted some symbol of Your presence that was not so terrifying. They need You to be close. They need to sense You not in the sky or the summit of the mountain but in the midst of the camp. And even if they cannot see Your face, for no one can do that, at least let them see some visible sign of Your glory.”

The Mishkan was not built exclusively to recognize Elohim’s Glory. It was also built to achieve intimacy with Elohim. As Moshe teaches us, it is by drawing close and recommitting that we transform our wrongdoing into something durable and lasting.

I trust this message from between Moshe and our ever loving Elohim has touched us, for there is so much to be learned from it, do not look toward what we see outside, when what we really have so much closer to home is so much more valuable, and that is our faith in Elohim, blessed be He!

 

May Elohim bless and keep you in the palm of His ever loving hands!

And please remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

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