"[32:4] “He took it from their hands and he formed it in a form and cast it into a calf…” Some say that the main sin of the golden calf was the fact that it was an unchanging, rigid form. They wanted to convey the message that the ideal life is stable and lived with a fixed personality. This is the opposite of the Torah life that demands dynamic movement toward holiness. According to that opinion, is the sin of the golden calf a sin of idolatry or is it the sin of having the wrong outlook on  life?"
“[32:4] “He took it from their hands and he formed it in a form and cast it into a calf…” Some say that the main sin of the golden calf was the fact that it was an unchanging, rigid form. They wanted to convey the message that the ideal life is stable and lived with a fixed personality. This is the opposite of the Torah life that demands dynamic movement toward holiness. According to that opinion, is the sin of the golden calf a sin of idolatry or is it the sin of having the wrong outlook on
life?”
Parshat Ki Tissa

(Shmot 30:11-34:35)

(Haftara: Kings I [Melachim I] 18, 1-39)

1. [30:38 ] “Whoever makes exactly like it [the incense of the Temple] in order to smell it will be cut off from his people.” Whoever makes the incense for his own esthetic pleasure will be cut off. We know, however, that in many ways we appreciate things that are pleasing to our senses. Why is there such a severe punishment for someone who replicates the incense for his own use?

2. [30:38] “If a person makes it (the incense) to enjoy its smell, he shall be cut off from his people.” There is a rule in the Talmud which says, “Commandments were not given for enjoyment (or for personal gain)”. We know, however, that we are encouraged by our tradition to “enjoy” doing God’s commandments, and we get pleasure from many commandments. What does the Talmud mean when it says, “Commandments were not given for enjoyment”?

3. [31:2] “Look, I have called by name Betzalel ben Uri…” God called Betzalel ben Uri “by name”, to use his talent for craftsmanship. Our tradition tells us that each of us has a special job to do in this world. What is so special about Betzalel being called “by name”—all of us are called “by name”?

4. [32:4] “He took it from their hands and he formed it in a form and cast it into a calf…” Some say that the main sin of the golden calf was the fact that it was an unchanging, rigid form. They wanted to convey the message that the ideal life is stable and lived with a fixed personality. This is the opposite of the Torah life that demands dynamic movement toward holiness. According to that opinion, is the sin of the golden calf a sin of idolatry or is it the sin of having the wrong outlook on life?

5. [Haftara: Kings I (Melachim I) 18:21] “…how long will you stay between two opinions. If God is God, then follow Him, and if Ba’al then follow him…” Isn’t this a dangerous educational method? The people could have said that they choose Ba’al. Why did Eliyahu choose these words, rather than simply rebuking the people for being idolators?

Commentary

At Mount Sinai, the Israelites experienced God. When the experience was over, and Moshe went up the mountain, they again wanted to experience God. In experiencing God there are two aspects: the meeting and the accompanying ecstasy. They built the golden calf and danced around it to experience ecstasy—but they left the main thing behind—the encounter with God—the meeting. Their sin was in wanting the less important and the more selfish thing—the ecstasy and the pleasure. But they ignored the more important thing—the meeting with God!

This study page is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Bella bat Yitzchak Kummer, Chaim Yosef Yechiel ben Eliyahu Kummer and Eliyahu and Margaret Kummer