This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Ki Tisa (5770)
This week’s Torah portion presents the most shameful, demoralizing and uninspiring story ever told; the Golden Calf episode.
Moses led the Jews from Egypt and did everything possible to get them to believe in the Almighty. He gave G-d all the credit for the ten plagues, splitting the sea, bringing Manna from heaven, water from a rock and more. Indeed, at the splitting of the sea the Jews actually SAW G-d and a few weeks later at Mount Sinai they both SAW and HEARD Him saying (first two of the Ten Commandments) to worship ONLY the G-d who took them from Egypt.
And despite all this the Torah tells us that it didn’t work! The Jews did exactly the OPPOSITE and worshiped an idol.
The Torah is supposed to be an uplifting religious book that brings people to believe in G-d, but here we find exactly the opposite!
If after all these first hand experiences the Jews still did not believe…then what chance have we got?! What is this story doing in the Torah? What is the Torah trying to teach us here??
To understand this, here is a story. (Stories of the Baal Shem Tov pg.11)
Some 300 years ago Judaism was at a low point. Divided into two ‘camps’; Talmudic scholars and simple people, it seemed like G-d’s promises to Abraham and the forefathers of Moshiach and redemption would never materialize.
It was precisely then that a Jew by the name of Yisroel Baal Shem (a.k.a. Baal Shem Tov or Besh’t for short) began teaching a new type of proactive type of Judaism called ‘Chassidut’. He stressed ideas such as ‘the Jewish soul’, Joy in Judaism, giving G-d pleasure and the necessity of a miracle-performing ‘Moses’ in every generation.
All of these were so unacceptable to the Scholarly class that the majority of them openly hated the Besh’t and even considered excommunicating him.
Our story centers around such a Rabbi. His name is not given in the story but we will call him Rabbi Zundel. He was so certain that the Besh’t was a false Messiah and a faker that he issued a decree totally forbidding anyone in his city to listen to or help him or his pupils in any way even to provide them a glass of water. There were those that tried to point out that the Besh’t was a great scholar, a G-d fearing man, had healed the sick and done other revealed miracles to alleviate Jewish suffering but the Rabbi was totally unimpressed.
He was satisfied with the Judaism he knew and refused to even discuss the matter.
Now this Rabbi Zundel was a very devoted Torah Scholar and was very demanding on both himself and his congregation. It was unthinkable that anyone would disobey his decisions or that he would err in any way. In fact before he was faced with any sort of Torah question or legal decision he would often weigh it out for hours before stating his opinion.
But it so happened one afternoon, shortly after he issued his decree against the Besh’t, that a serious problem arose regarding the ‘kashrut’ (permissibility) of a cow that had been slaughtered for a wedding feast of several hundred people that evening; there was a blemish in one of the lungs. Without hesitation Rav Zundel was brought to inspect the animal, returned home to study the problem thoroughly and after considerable deliberation decided that the animal was kosher and the meat could be eaten.
The Rabbi returned home to his studies and other obligations but several hours later suddenly a frightening thought entered his mind; he remembered clearly that another book said that in such a case the meat would be forbidden!
A cold sweat covered his forehead as he pulled that book from his library, turned to the page and discovered that....it was as he feared!
Without even bothering to put on his overcoat he dashed out of his house to the wedding hall like a madman possessed to tell everyone not to eat the meat! But when he arrived he found that the wedding meal had just ended! He had caused everyone to inadvertently sin and eat forbidden food!
He was stunned! It was too late! Everyone, unaware of the reason behind his visit, stood for his honor and waited for him to say something in honor of the occasion but he meekly smiled, said a forced ‘Mazal Tov’, turned and left. It was too late. There was no point in ruining the wedding. He would have to figure out what to do. Perhaps to tell them in a few days but meanwhile his mistake began weighing on his mind. He had never made a mistake, never! And now this! And there was no way to correct it!
The next day he felt ill and the day afterwards also. He just wanted to be alone and collect his thoughts. He lost his appetite, stopped leaving his room, refused to see people and began talking to himself. It was obvious that he was slowly losing control of his mind. Weeks later he still hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell anyone of his mistake, he just sat in his room or wandered about his house mumbling to himself or crying silently.
The entire town witnessed the deterioration of their beloved Rabbi and decided to take action. A committee was appointed and they summoned doctors of higher and higher caliber but they all agreed that his problem could not be solved by any known treatments.
So the committee turned to ‘alternative’ medicine; they heard of a man several days journey away that was reputed to possess mystical abilities of healing and in desperation decided to take Rav Zundel to him.
They bundled their Rabbi in warm blankets, put him in the largest carriage in town and were off. After several days of travel they stopped at an inn and when the innkeeper heard where they were going he immediately suggested that because they were not far from the town of Mezibuz where the famed Baal Shem Tov lived, they should visit him before seeing this dubious ‘mystic’.
They took one look at their Rabbi who stared emptily into the distance; eyes darting in inner turmoil, and decided they had nothing to lose. They told the wagon driver of their change in venue and to their amazement as they approached Mezibuz their precious Rabbi Zundel came little by little to his senses. His eyes cleared, his confusion seemed to disappear and he even began to recognize those around him.
Then, when they finally reached their destination, and asked for the Besh’t he was pointed out as the one standing at the front door of his synagogue as though he was expecting them. The Besh’t motioned to them, invited them into his study where he asked Rabbi Zundel to have a seat, took a book from the shelf, opened it and showed him that, in fact, he had not erred; he had decided correctly when he permitted the meat!
Rabbi Zundel examined the paragraphs the Besh’t showed him over and over until a warm smile formed on his face and tears of joy flowed down his face. He realized that he had been completely mistaken about this man. His misplaced hatred and distrust transformed to admiration; it was now obvious to him that his entire concept of Judaism had been too small and self-centered and became a follower of the Besh’t.
This answers our questions.
The Torah is telling us a very important message by relating the story of the Golden Calf. Namely that idolatry stems from selfishness (not feeling the INFINITE closeness of the Almighty). And self-centeredness brings fear, uncertainty and a desire for security in this world or the ‘next’. In desperation people turn to idolatry.
And all the miracles and revelations in the world can’t stop it.
The only way to combat such selfishness is to be connected to a Jew that has none; the ‘Moses’ found in each generation.
The Torah even tells us that the reason the Jews worshiped the Golden Calf was because they mistakenly believed that Moses was gone forever (32:1)!
The job of Moses is to get the Jews to do what they were ‘chosen’ for; to leave their false egotism, be constantly aware of the Creator and bring blessing to the world. But without Moses only egotism (material or spiritual) remains and rules.
And this was the reason that Rav Zundel at first refused to accept the Besh’t; he wasn’t willing to even consider relinquishing his own closed-mindedness. But once he did he became a different man.
So today; the arrival of Moshiach and world redemption depends on our learning and actualizing the teachings of the Chassidic masters [especially those of the Rebbes of Chabad and most especially those of the last Chabad Rebbe (see your local Chabad House for details)].
It must come from within each of us; even one more good deed, word or even thought according to the teachings of the Rebbe can bring….
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