Tolstoy and the Golden Calf
Mar 7th, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
It was a feeling of dread, of loneliness, of the forlornness in the midst of all that was alien to me, and it was a feeling of hope for someone’s help.
“He sees and knows of my search, my despair, my struggle,” I would say to myself. “He exists.” And as soon as I acknowledged this for an instant, life immediately rose up within me, and I could sense the possibility and even the joy of being.
And again, isolated from me and from the world, God would melt away before my eyes like a piece of ice; again nothing remained, again the source of life withered away. I was overcome with despair and felt that there was nothing for me to do but kill myself. (Leo Tolstoy, Confession)
I hear echoes of Tolstoy in the story of the Golden Calf. I hear the voice of the people wondering whether they are alone, without Moses, without God. They are frightened.
The fact that just a short “delay” of the return of their leader can cause such a deep sense of dread, indicates that these are people who, despite their great spiritual achievements, have been living on the edge. They have witnessed what no one else in history has ever seen. They have experienced the most profound miracles. Yet, there is something deep inside of them that makes it almost impossible for them to feel secure.
The same people who had been willing to wait hours just to have a private meeting with Moses, couldn’t wait just a few more hours to see whether Moses would return.
The same people who willingly chose distance from Moses when they accepted a system of judges rather than a direct relationship with Moses, could not bear just a few more hours of waiting for Moses. They needed him. They were desperate for an immediate response.
They did get their immediate response:. The Golden Calf, but then, Aaron declared the following day a holiday. They immediately accepted Aaron’s decision to hold off their celebration till the morrow. The same people who could not wait just a few hours, where now willing to wait overnight. The same people who were demanding an immediate response were now willing to delay their celebrations till the next day. Part of them desires an immediate response. Part of them is willing to delay. Part of them is desperate for a direct relationship with Moses. Part of them wants anything but a direct relationship with Moses.
In other words, these are people who do not know what it is they truly desire. They too, as did Tolstoy, experienced dread and loneliness, and hoped for someone’s help. But, they were aware of their ambivalence, and were convinced that as long as they were not committed to a single choice, they were undeserving of God’s continued involvement in their lives.
The Golden Calf was a symbol of their not being committed to a choice.
To be continued…
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