The Golden Calf: Why You Need a Wife.

13 02 2014

good wife

I remember when I was in Yeshiva hearing a story involving Ha’Rav Amital ZT’L and Rav Yitzchak Dor, currently the Rosh Yeshiva of Chorev. Rav Amital asked Rav Dor a week after he got married what the role of his wife was. Rav Dor gave several answers and then Rav Amital told him that the role of a wife is primarily to remind her husband who he really his. Rav Amital said to Rav Dor, “Now you are a Rav. One day you maybe a Rosh Yeshiva, and later on in your life you may even be a ‘Gadol Hador’. You will need your wife to remind you who you REALLY are.”

Rav Amital explained to Rav Dor, that in the rhelm of the Torah learning and studying it is very easy to forget who you are and get swept away in the rarified and detached environment of the Yeshiva. You are surrounded by impressionable Talmidim and like-minded Rabbaim who may also be swept up in that fervour. Therefore, you will need your wife who knows your faults and what you were like before you became a ‘Talmid Chacham’ or even a ‘Gadol Hador’ to remind you who you REALLY are.

In this week’s Parsha we learn of the Egel Hazahav – the Golden Calf. If what actually happened during the sin of the Golden Calf was mass Avodah Zarah, idol worship, as the plain meaning of the text indicates, then the entire episode is incomprehensible.

Why? For two reasons: Firstly, the role of Aharon in being so appeasing to the demands of the people and secondly, how could Am Yisrael have needed and worshipped the Egel after Maamad Har Sinai?

The Ramban, Ibn Ezra and the Kuzari have an entirely different reading of the text.

Firstly, they reason, Aharon was not a party to the Avodah Zarah. The proof being that Aharon went on to serve in the Mishkan for the next 40 years and was a partner with Moshe in leading Am Yisrael and receiving many of the Mitzvot from Hashem. Furthermore, the only aveirah that the Torah charges Aharon with is joining with Moshe in striking the stone, rather than speaking to it (Bamidbar 20:12).

Secondly, Am Yisrael did not deny Hashem – they needed a replacement for Moshe NOT Hashem. The proof being, that when Moshe returned they were perfectly happy for him to destroy it. Their enthusiasm for the Egel was only because it was a substitute for their leader, Moshe. Also, the Jews who worshipped the Egel were in the minority of only three thousand-they were outsiders.

My favourite explanation is that of the Beit Halevi, who asserts that their error was that the people knew that their sacrificial service was performed by a specific person, Aharon, in a specific place, the Mishkan. The people felt they had the right and need to create another such means and vehicle to channel their service – in effect, they wanted their own Mishkan that would suit their own personal and individual needs and desires, as they saw them. That, the Beit Halevi describes was their crucial error. Jews cannot custom tailor their religion or their own mishkan. The Mishkan and the sacrificial service is prescribed and defined by Hashem in the Torah and based on Divine mysteries that are way beyond human understanding. The Beit Halevi concludes that it is impossible for anyone to use the Mishkan, the Bet Hamikdash or any of the Torah’s mitzvot as the prototype for a man-made religious experience.

In other words, according to the Bet Halevi, the people had lost touch with who they REALLY were. They had been swept up in the ‘spiritual experience’ of the Divine Revelation at Sinai, with all the religious excitement that went along with it and had lost touch with reality. They were unable to integrate that experience into their regular lives.

So, I guess, one lesson we can learn from the Egel Hazahav episode, is that just like a man needs a wife to remind him who he REALLY is, so too, Am Yisrael also need qualified and strong leaders to remind us who we REALLY are and to keep us in line and curb our passion which can so easily become dangerous and self-destructive.

Shabbat Shalom,
Benjy Singer.
(My Shteiblech).


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