Friday, March 6, 2015

Parsha: Chait HaEgel: What Was the Sin?

Rav Turetsky

The Chait HaEgal was a serious sin with major implications. Rashi (Shemot 33:11) discusses how this sin led to the command to build a Mishkan. Rav Chaim of Volozhin (Nefesh HaChaim 1:6) and Rav Tzadok Hakohain of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik to Parshat Shekalim) describe how it led the Jews to have a form of spiritual contamination.   Others note numerous additional ways in which this sin impacted the Jewish people.[1]

Yet, there is a wide range of views regarding the precise nature of the sin. What exactly was so bad about what the Jewish people did? Why did it generate such long-reaching repercussions?[2] 

1. For some Rishonim, Chait HaEgel should be understood as a form of idol worship.[3] This approach certainly has support within the text (see Shemot 32:4[4]), and it would explain why it was treated so harshly.

2. However,  other Rishonim explicitly reject such a perspective. Ramban (Shemot 32:1) maintains the sin was really about the Jewish people wanting another Moshe, a unique figure who could lead them.

3. Rav Yehuda HaLevi (Sefer haKuzari 1:97) understands it was about a desire to worship God through something physical. For him, the sin was not the Jews worshiping a different God. Rather, it was them worshiping Hashem through means not sanctioned by God.

Rav Yehuda HaLevi’s approach highlights a fundamental principle in Avodat Hashem. Our mission is not only to serve Hashem, but, more specifically, to serve Him the way the Torah and Chazal teach us to worship. Only through a rigorous understanding of Halakha can one truly be an ideal Eved Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] See, for example, Talmud Avodah Zarah 5a, Kli Yakar Bamidbar 19:2, and Chavetzelet HaSharon Shemot 15.
[2] For additional sources regarding the nature of their sin (not mentioned below), see Mesech Chochmah (Shemot 32:19), Beit HaLevi (Ki Tisa 31:13), and Emunat Itecha (Par. Parah 305-306).
[3] See, for example, Rashi (32:1).
[4] See, however, Rashi (ad loc).

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