Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

Time and again we seek to experience the heights of Har Sinai, only to fall. We can’t figure out why and wonder if we are just a lost cause. The aftermath of the episode of the Golden Calf, as recounted in this week’s parsha, brings promise and edification to anyone seeking illumination in a world that seems incongruous and bereft of all sense.

Imagine how Bnei Yisroel must have felt post-Golden Calf debacle. At Har Sinai they had reached such high levels of kedusha that the Malochim stared in wonder as human flesh and blood heard Hashem’s words directly. Yet, in just a short time everything came crashing down; they were creating an idol and seeking answers from golden promises that held no hope.

The Nesivas Sholom explains that at the moment of Kabbolas Hatorah we were poised at such a high level that there was nothing more to do but to bring the Moshiach. One stumbling block remained: once before man had been pure, yet in that state of purity he had been found wanting and all was lost. That man was Odom Harishon and if he hadn’t fallen for the wiles of the Satan, the world would have earned its total redemption. What went wrong there, similarly missed the target at the time of the Golden Calf, and often goes wrong in our lives today.

Odom was pure because he was created in that manner. His spirituality owed nothing to his own efforts. He was holy because he had never been challenged, and this was his test. Hashem needed man to earn his kedusha before letting him become the permanent occupant of Gan Eden. He failed, and we have been impacted by this failing ever since.

Klal Yisroel were imbued with a kedusha unparalleled in history: they were higher than Malochim, and could feel the very breath of total redemption. However, they needed to be tested, just as Odom had been; they needed to earn some of that kedusha. Tragically, they lost the chance, and we are still suffering till today.

So what can we learn from all this? Well, perhaps everything!

We live in extraordinary times where learning is at an all-time high. The average Baal Habayis has learnt more years in yeshiva than was the norm in pre- war Europe and is privy to more knowledge than ever before. Yet we despair, we try to reach up to greater heights and constantly fall. Listen again to the Nesivas Sholom. He tells us that when faced with challenges we lose all the unearned madregos- spiritual heights-we had, and confront these trials with no real levels of spirituality. You wonder that I felt I was so spiritual, yet look how I am able to fall. The truth is that all those spiritual heights were given by Hashem almost gratis. We received them through our upbringing and our environment. Therefore, when challenged they disappear, leaving us vulnerable. The avodah of a Yied then is to face the trial and stand firm. If we overcome the difficulty, we will have earned the merit it brings, and that will stay with us for the future. The Yidden at the time of the Golden Calf had no defence and it was because of this that they fell.

Having gone through the purging experience of the sin of the eigel, they were then taught another lesson that is vital for today. There is a dynamic called teshuva, and it works! If you have true remorse, Hashem will forgive you and bring you back to where your neshoma craves to be. Nothing is beyond the scope of teshuva.

Rav Eliyahu Hoffman writes that Moshe Rabbeinu went up to plead Bnei Yisroel’s case with a strange yet effective plan, The Torah tells us: “I beg – this nation has committed a most grievous sin; they made themselves a golden god. Now, please forgive their sin…” (Shemos 32:30- 32). Now this is a strange way to mount a defence for your client! Usually, the barrister representing you would find all kinds of excuses and mitigating circumstances. Yet here it seems Moshe was doing the job of the prosecutor!

In fact, though, Moshe was teaching us a life-enhancing lesson. If we have sinned and lost our way, we must just stand up to our mistake, and show true remorse. Forgiveness comes when we own up to our weaknesses. The untarnished truth cleanses.

We live in a blame culture where nothing is our fault. We are all victims who should never be made to feel guilty. The reality is that every human soul has been affected by circumstances, what we call the Trial Of Life. Our tikun comes through rising above the blame game and taking responsibility for ourselves. Reclaiming our lives from those past afflictions is the stuff of earned spiritual heights, and this can never be taken from us. The tools of growth are in our hearts; if we face down the past we can hope for a positive tomorrow.

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