Parshas Ki Sisa

Rabbi Berel Wein

The sin of the Golden Calf remains one of the great mysteries in the story of the Jewish people throughout the ages‭. ‬Flooded with miracles on all sides‭, ‬unbelievably redeemed from Egyptian bondage‭, ‬and being sustained daily in a desert‭, ‬the Jewish people somehow revert to idolatry and paganism‭. ‬As illogical as this is‭, ‬it is‭, ‬nevertheless‭, ‬not as surprising as later generations may‭ ‬assess the events‭. ‬

Human beings are not only influenced‭, ‬but‭, ‬to a greater extent‭, ‬are limited and bound by the norms of the general society in which they exist‭. ‬How can millions of North Koreans weep at the death of someone who was a tyrant and a murderer over them‭? ‬Yet that is exactly what happened when the two previous Kingdoms finally passed from this earth‭. ‬It is exceedingly difficult to maintain one’s individual beliefs‭, ‬no matter how correct and logical they may be‭, ‬in the face of contrary opinion held by the majority general society‭. ‬

There was a phrase in Yiddish that translates as‭ ‬“the general society is malleable and foolish‭.‬”‭ ‬Even the most outlandish of ideas‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬such as paganism itself‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬somehow will gain traction‭, ‬even amongst intelligent people‭, ‬if it is somehow the prevailing attitude that permeates the general society‭. ‬In a world of belief and sacrifice for paganism‭, ‬it is‭ ‬not that difficult to understand that this should affect the Jewish people as well‭, ‬in spite of their own personal and national‭ ‬history of monotheism‭, ‬miracles and G-dly deliverance‭. ‬

The Talmud records that one of the great rabbis of the time saw the wicked king Achov in one of his dreams‭. ‬The rabbi asked the‭ ‬tyrant for his help in answering a question in Jewish law‭, ‬over which the rabbis of the study hall were struggling‭. ‬The king answered promptly and correctly‭, ‬as to what the law is according to Jewish tradition‭. ‬The rabbi in wonderment asked the king that if he is such a scholar‭, ‬how could he follow idolatry and allow it to be rampant in the Jewish kingdom that he ruled‭? ‬Achov answered‭: ‬“If you would have lived in my generation‭, ‬you would have picked up the hem of your robe in order to run more quickly to serve that false idol‭.‬”‭ ‬

We look back at so many false idols and beliefs that litter the landscape of human history and especially those of Western civilization‭. ‬We wonder how people could have been so na ve and foolish and so wrong about such basic matters of faith and perspective‭. ‬Yet we ourselves live in a society dominated by what we realize to be false ideas‭, ‬bad policies‭, ‬and the foolish denial of facts and realities‭, ‬let alone the obvious lessons of‭ ‬history and tradition‭. ‬We know‭, ‬for instance‭, ‬that cancel culture is wrong‭, ‬evil‭, ‬and counterproductive to the human spirit and‭ ‬belief‭. ‬Nevertheless‭, ‬we are all careful not to say and certainly not to publish what we know to be true‭, ‬because of our trepidation that we will somehow be canceled because of it‭. ‬

To be a Jew requires a great moral strength and fortitude‭. ‬We have not always been able to swim against the current tide‭, ‬and‭, ‬tragically‭, ‬we always pay a price for that failing‭. ‬Shabbat shalom‭.‬

Share this article: