Parshas Ki Sisa contains one of the most difficult episodes in our nation’s history. After we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, Moses ascended to the peak of the mountain and remained there for forty days while God taught him the Torah. The Jews miscalculated the day on which Moses was to return, and upon seeing that he failed to reappear, they assumed that he would never return again. Amidst the confusion and anxiety which plagued the people, they engaged in idol worship, one of the most severe violations of the Torah, by serving the Golden Calf.
How could the Jews commit such a grave sin? It seems to be beyond comprehension. These people reached the loftiest levels of holiness and experienced the most surreal revelation of God just forty days prior when they received the Torah. How could the people fall so low so quickly?
The Bais Halevi sheds some light upon their mistake, from which we can glean a tremendous lesson, as follows: Moses didn’t merely serve as a leader for the Jewish Nation. Moses was the intermediary between the Jewish people and God, through which God bestowed his presence upon them. When it seemed to the people that Moses had vanished, they were concerned about restoring a means by which they can have God’s presence reside amongst them. The Golden Calf was not meant to be worshiped instead of God, but a vehicle to reach a more tangible connection to God.
If this is so, the question now is, where did they err? Says the Bais Halevi, it is not up to us to determine the way we should connect to God. Even if one were to be intimately familiar with all the spiritual systems and the way they run, he still could not formulate his own method of connecting to God. The only methods we must utilize in pursuing spiritual accomplishment are those which are prescribed by the Torah. Any deviation from the guidelines of the Torah, even for the sake of lofty aspirations, is considered a sin.
By deviating from the guidelines of the Torah, despite the good intentions behind it, the people had committed a grave error from which we still suffer to this day (see Rashi 32:34). While we may not be familiar with the intricate workings of spiritual mechanics, we are also tempted sometimes to use our own reasoning in pursuit of spiritual accomplishments without being careful to strictly adhere to the Torah’s guidelines. But this in essence is the same mistake the Jews made with the Golden Calf. Our duty is to strictly follow the rules of the Torah, without interjecting our personal feelings and reasoning to create modifications. We are not in this world to do what makes us feel spiritual, but to follow the will of God as is set forth by the Torah.
There was once a man who was seriously ill. Yom Kippur was approaching, and he sincerely wanted to fast. The doctors, however, forbade him from fasting, and he was very distraught. He voiced his resentment over the fact that he is being deprived of the special Mitzvah of fasting on this holy day to the Chazon Ish.
Upon hearing the man’s complaint, the Chazon Ish responded, “Who decreed that you shouldn’t fast? We are merely simple soldiers of God who follow orders. When we are ordered to fast, we fast. When we are ordered to eat, we eat. There were times when I was forbidden to don Tefillin and Tzitzis due to a stomach ailment. During these times, I would pray to God and say, ‘Master of the world, You are the one Who commanded me to wear Tefillin and Tzitzis, and I have worn them. Now you command me to not wear them, and so I am not putting them on.”
There are times when we are challenged with a “religious” Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) to perform deeds that make us feel accomplished spiritually, even when the will of the Torah is otherwise. We may get excited in our pursuit of a Mitzvah (Torah commandment) and neglect to properly ascertain whether we are truly adhering to the guidelines prescribed for us by the Torah. We must remember that we cannot be wiser than the Torah itself. Spiritual accomplishments are measured according to the guidelines of the Torah and we cannot gain anything by violating its rules. Deviating from the laws of the Torah, even with the loftiest intentions, is a sin which could lead to the most devastating consequences.
Parshas Ki Sisa by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber