Ki Sisa – Sin of the Golden Calf: A Lesson in Parenting

Imagine if you, as parents, went away for a few days and left your 8 children, one of them being adopted, with a caregiver. Their ages are 15,12, 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, and the adopted one is 13. The parents left on their trip, and the caregiver went to the grocery store before she came, to pick up a few items. The 15-year-old was in charge until the caregiver got there. Which is fine because the 15-year-old is old enough to watch for a few hours. The caregiver is taking her time to get to the house and the kids are getting a little antsy. But the 15-year-old keeps them calm. And then, the 13-year-old adopted child, who is known to be a troublemaker but all in all is a good kid had an idea. He was getting a bit nervous so he told his siblings that he has an older friend that can come over and take care of them because this other babysitter must not be coming. He calls his friend, and the guy comes over. He is a drug addict, spiked hair, earrings in other places besides his ears and tattoos. He starts handing out drugs to the kids. The 15-year-old does not know what to do but he plays along and spins the joint between his two fingers without taking a puff. The parents look at the cameras they have in their house to check on how their children are doing and are appalled at the sight! They call the caregiver to runover right away. She walks into the house, sees the scene in front of her and drops all the packages in her hands. The police are called, the guy is arrested, and the drugs confiscated. The adopted child, the parents felt, had to be removed from the house and put back into a home. What would you do as parents if this happened to you?

This is a pretty good comparison, mashal, to what took place in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa by the sin of the golden calf, where the Eirev Rav, those that left Egypt with the Jews supposedly pledging allegiance to G-D, but were the ring leaders of the movement to replace Moshe with the golden calf as leader of the people because he wasn’t coming back after 6 hours into the 40th day from when he went up to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Aharon tried pushing them off and waste time but they took over the situation and wreaked havoc until Hashem told Moshe there is havoc down there in the camp, hurry go down, and when he went down and saw what was happening he dropped the two tablets of Ten Commandments he was carrying, eventually destroying the idol and killing whoever was directly involved and Hashem was ready to wipe out the entire Jewish people and start anew with Moshe Rabbeinu. 
 Rabbeinu Yona in a drasha he said to his congregation found in the Sefer Drashos Upeirushei Rabbeinu Yona al HaTorah explains Hashem’s reaction and Moshe’s response and how Moshe advocated on behalf of the Jewish nation before Hashem. “And it says that He does judgement kindness, and righteousness in the land. For we find that He did a great kindness to our forefathers when they left Egypt, and by Mount Sinai, and He spoke to them from Heaven. And He told Moshe Rabbeinu go up this mountain to Me and I will give the tablets of stone etc. (Shemos 24:12). He did all this in order to turn them into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is called kindness, just like it says in Tehillim (89:3) ‘A world of kindness He shall build.’ ‘And He prepared with kindness the Throne’ (Yeshayahu 16:5). After this when Moshe seemed to have been delayed coming back down the mountain, the sin of the golden calf occurred. They wanted something they could gather around and to be their leader to replace Moshe. For they said, ‘get up and make for us an elohim’ (which can mean a judge). That is why Aharon didn’t take his life to ensure he would not be involved in it and only the rest of the nation deserved to be destroyed. So, then Moshe Rabbeinu got up in prayer and said ‘Why Hashem have you become furious?’ Meaning, don’t become furious, as it says similarly, ‘Why should I be dead in your eyes’ (Breishis 47:19). [Moshe went on and said] ‘that You took them out of Egypt.’ This is to teach us that if one does a kindness for another, he has to be able to deal with the iniquities done afterwards in order to uphold the original kindness. [Moshe also] said ‘and with great strength etc.’ He asked of [Hashem] to raise upon them the power of mercy as it says, ‘Please raise the power of Hashem… Slow to anger and much kindness’ (Bamidbar 14:17, 18). [Moshe also] said ‘The Egyptians will say etc.’ Not that there was a concern about what the Egyptians would say just that Moshe and his children would become a great nation. We learn from here that one should be concerned about what others would say and should not do something which would lead to being the laughing stalk of others even if what you do is justified.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Rabbeinu Yona gives 3 reasons of why Hashem should not act furiously against the Jewish People. 1. Because it wouldn’t be right to get rid of someone who You originally saved. 2. Arouse mercy in Yourself. 3. The Egyptians will make fun of You. But why are those justifications and how does it sound right? The Jewish People betrayed Hashem and Moshe. This was fresh off of Hashem taking them in to be His nation and children. Why do they deserve to have mercy? They didn’t live up to their original expectations and it’s not like Hashem took them in for a long time and after a while they made a mistake, so it looks bad to get rid of them after raising and molding them for a long time. Whereas here, just getting them and they made a major mistake just means it was like a bad sale so it’s understandable that He would just give them back or get rid of them? Furthermore, who cares what other people say? Hashem is the King Of All Kings, He proved His might and force with the plagues. He proved He means business and He has high standards of what’s right and wrong so it’s understandable that Hashem would severely punish us and get rid of us even after He just saved us and what the Egyptians would say if they would say anything is meaningless.

 It must be that these were all reasons that Moshe gave to arouse mercy on Hashem’s children, though they might deserve severe punishment and really what the Egyptians would say is meaningless but in the context of how a father should react to the actions of his children, Moshe made these points as an advocate for His children towards their Father in Heaven.
 That doesn’t mean that Moshe was asking for a free pass. Rabbeinu Yona goes on to explain a few other claims Moshe made to Hashem on behalf of the Jewish People and in the end Rabbeinu Yona writes, “After He taught Moshe the 13 attributes of mercy, Moshe went back and asked Hashem ‘if it finds favor in His eyes, if He can please walk amongst us?’ But it wouldn’t be the same kind of walking as originally planned. Originally [Hashem] with His Honor would have walked amongst them but now He would only rest His Shechina amongst them, as it says ‘I will walk in the Tent and in the Mishkan’ (Shmuel Beis 7:6) and it says ‘And I will walk amongst you’ (Vayikra perek 26). And it says, ‘For they are a stubborn nation,’ Meaning even though they are a stubborn nation. ‘And You will forgive us…’ Meaning, since the Shechina will be amongst them they will not further sin. And it says, ‘we will be an inheritance’ Meaning, You will place us as an inheritance for You when You will rest amongst us. It also says in the prophets, ‘Hashem chose Yehuda as His part on the Holy ground and chose Yerushalayim again’ (Zechariah 2:16).”
 Hashem didn’t just give a free pass, out of His abundance of mercy to the Jewish People. There were consequences for their actions, namely they could have had the Shechina resting amongst them throughout the entire camp. A feeling of bliss and holiness would have been felt consistently by everyone on a level quite incredible. They lost their chance to have a “buddy buddy” so to speak type of relationship with Hashem but rather Hashem just rested His Shechina over the Mishkan as like a knowing eye constantly watching over them to deter them from sinning.

We learn from here a very important lesson on how to deal with loved ones who we are responsible for but might have gotten into trouble, maybe even severe trouble. The first thing one has to do is remember that you have been taking care of them until now so you have a sense of responsibility for them and should not give up on them so quickly. Then you should arouse mercy on them, and one can think about how others will look at you for lashing out and severely punishing a loved one, as a means to calm yourself down. But that doesn’t mean he or she should get a pass for what they did. One can’t just be “buddy buddy” with them you have to show your authority while showing love and keeping an eye on them, making sure they know your presence is felt to ensure they don’t make mistakes at least for quite a while. (This applies to the party involved that just joined in but the ring leaders might deserve and need a more severe punishment as we see what happened to the Eirev Rav in the nimshal or the adopted child in the mashal I gave.)

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder