One of the things plaguing the Torah world right now is the phenomenon of worshiping the Gadol. It doesn’t matter which segment of the Torah world. It applies to all of us. If one individual is put too high up on a pedestal disaster happens. One need only look at what is done in the name of one Gadol or another to understand this. Whether it is causing havoc in Jerusalem, banning a book or a concert, bashing those who raise questions about it, or proclaiming a Gadol to be Moshiach even after he died, it can all be traced to worshipping the image of the Gadol as though he transcended his humanity to become God-like.
This is not to take away from the greatness of any Gadol. Judaism requires that we honor our great people. It requires that we treat them with respect and even awe. It requires that we listen to them. But what it does not require – and perhaps forbids - is worshiping them as icons. Nowhere is this more evident that in this week’s Parsha, Ki Sisa.
It is in Parhsas Ki Sisa where we have our first instance of what happens when a great man, Moshe Rabbenu, is worshipped. That kind of worship led to the Maaseh HaEgel – the worshipping of an icon – the golden calf.
Rav Ahron Soloveichik makes this very point in his book, The Warmth and the Light. How is it possible that the people who were just so overwhelmed by the Shechina and declaring ‘Naaseh V’Nishma’ – ‘We will do (the Mitzvos) and we will listen to them’ - could sink to the moral abyss of Avodah Zara - idol worship?
Another question Rav Ahron asks is the following. Immediately after the Bnei Ysiroel commence their devious behavior, God tells Moshe, ‘Go descend – for your nation has become corrupt! I have seen this nation and behold, it is a stiff necked nation!’ (Shemos 32:9).
Stiff necked? If anything they were flexible – going from the heights of spirituality and in a single moment sinking to the depths of depravity! And what about Aharon, a prophet in his own right? How could he have joined forces with the masses in this? And why was God so angry with them if it was just a matter of ignorance?
And finally why did he feel the need to shatter the Luchos? Rashi explains that the first Luchos were broken because of Ayin Hara. How can that be? Is there an Ayain Hara to something of Divine nature? Ayain Hara may have a negative psychological impact on man. But on a Godly item of what consequence is psychology?
Rav Ahron explains that there are two ways in which to take possession and educate – Kibbush and Chazakah. Kibbush is done with brute force. Chazaka is a slow peaceful process of cultivation. With regard to education Kibbush is when a student is overwhelmed with data. He is being taught all at once. Chazakah is a process of giving over information little by little. According to the Rambam (Hilchos Beis HaBechira - 6:16). The Kedusha of the first conquest of Israel was with brute force – Kibbush. That Kedusha lasted until the destruction of the first Temple. The Kedusha of second temple was a process of Chazakah and remains in effect today – 2 millennia after the destruction of the 2nd Temple. Kibbush loses its effect with time and Chazakah actually gets stronger with each passing day.
When the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt, they didn’t have the spiritual strength – the ethical principles necessary to receive the Torah. God therefore had to perform deeds contrary to the laws of nature in order to raise them to a level of ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Shemos 19:6). Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk explains in his Meshech Chochma that the Gemarah in Shabbos (88A) which says that ‘God held the mountain over their heads like a cask’ is not to be taken literally. Coercing the Bnei Yisroel to accept the Torah would have undermined their free will. God was simply revealing Himself to His people. After the resulting awe and ecstacy they felt about God they could not possibly refuse His Torah. They suddenly saw Emes. Their education was sudden and immediate in the form of Kibbush. And as fast as their spiritual rise was – so too was their spiritual decline. ‘They have turned away quickly from the path that I taught them’ (Shemos 32:8).
There are two categories of Avodah Zara: Full heathendom and partial heathendom. In the latter type an idol is worshipped only as an intermediary. The worshipper believes that the intermediary can exert a compelling force on a higher power. This is exactly where the Bnei Yisroel went wrong. A certain hero worship arose around Moshe. While nobody believed he was God, some did think he had some compelling influence upon Him. After he didn’t return when expected, they attempted to replace him with a calf – symbolic of their notion of a Jewish leader who is energetic and powerful.
Rav Ahron believes that this is the meaning of ‘stiff necked’. They were narrow minded. They had a limited sense of vision. Someone who has a stiff neck and cannot turn his head to the left or right. And therefore not have a peripheral perspective. The Bnei Yisroel could not see beyond Moshe Rabbenu. When he didn’t return they panicked. Had they been able to turn around and see the splender of Matan Torah right behind them they would have understood that Moshe was merely delayed. But they only saw one possibility - Moshe’s death. Their limited vision was because of the way they acquired their education via Kibbush. An education that does not last even if performed by God. The Ayin Hara that Rashi uses in his explanation of why the Luchos were broken refers to their poor one dimensional vision’ that was the result of the way they were educated via Kibbush.
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 8:5) relates that when God created man all the angels fought pro and con about it. Among those who were con was Emes – which said that man was full of lies. God then took Emes and cast it to the earth from where it would grow (See Tehillim 85:12). This Medrash is a metaphor illustrating that just as a growing tree is a necessarily slow process so too is the cultivation of Emes in man.
If, then, the Bnei Yisroel’s error was rooted in their faulty education and ignorance, why were God and Moshe so angry with them? Because by their dancing and merriment they showed that their actions were not predicated solely by ignorance. Had they acted only on an intellectual level they could have been shown the flaw in their reasoning. But by their actions they showed they were as led astray by their whims and desires to gratify their base appetites. Because of that they developed their ‘inescapable intellectual coercion’ that Moshe had died and had to be replaced. When Moshe saw what they were doing, he broke the Luchos.
Aharon too realized this and therefore knew they were going to satisfy their desires at any cost. So he acted in the only way he could to help them. After seeing Chur slaughtered before him he realized that if he didn’t help them, they would kill a priest in the sanctuary of God and never be able to repent. (Sanhedrin 7A). Tospehos asserts that Aharon’s intention was meritorious. The Meiri (Sanhedrin) deduces from the story of Esther that one is not required to give up his life if he is indispensible to saving Klal Yisroel. So he submitted reluctantly to the Jews who were swept away by their base desires unaffected by their education through Kibbush.
So ends Rav Aharon’s Dvar Torah. One can thus see from this week’s Parsha the dangers of seeing leaders as Icons. And why people see them that way. It is because of a faulty education coerced upon them via Kibbush. Force feeding them via indoctrination without allowing any peripheral vision. This creates the ‘perfect storm’ for doing things ostensibly L’Shem Shamyim and ending up with Avodah Zara.