By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The left is celebrating. Retail giant Amazon was coming to New York City. The mammoth operation was going to open a new headquarters in Long Island City, a formerly run-down area of warehouses and factories. Amazon was bringing 25,000 high-paying jobs to the city. Not only would the headquarters be spending billions of dollars in the city, but its well-paid staff would help pick up local real estate and commerce on all levels.
Last week, Amazon announced that it had enough of the many blockades the leftists had put up to hinder its arrival to New York. It was staying home. Sorry, New Yorkers, the golden opportunity so many other cities fought over was ending. Amazon wouldn’t be building a new headquarters after all.
The left is thrilled. Their hatred for large corporations and rich people, such as the owner of Amazon, exposed their lie that they care about workers and the poor. They chased out the best opportunity for workers and the poor that has been presented in a long time. The more that people are earning and spending money, the more money there is going around, and the more income there is for builders, plumbers, electricians, bodega owners, craftsmen, repairmen and domestic help.
The progressives who have taken over the Democrat Party destroyed a prime opportunity to enhance the economy, while mainstream Democrats sat on their hands and permitted it to happen.
Such is the pattern of socialists around the world. They promise a panacea, a worker’s paradise, yet in the name of fairness, they destroy any chance at economic growth. Wherever they go, ruin follows. Fine oratory and promises of free stuff and guaranteed incomes never come through. Instead, they bring corruption, destruction, bankruptcy, hunger and starvation.
Such is the way of the Soton.
In this week’s parsha of Ki Sisa, we read of the tragic downfall of the Bnei Yisroel as they sinned with the Eigel. Moshe Rabbeinu went up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah, and when he failed to return at the expected time, the people began worshiping a golden calf that had been crafted from their jewelry.
How could the most knowledgeable generation of all, who are referred to as the “dor dei’ah” and who stood at Har Sinai and declared the angelic words, “Na’aseh venishma,” accepting upon themselves all that Hashem would command, surrender their loyalty to Moshe for a small golden image pulled out of a fire?
What caused this exalted people, for whom Hashem performed so many miracles, to fail? What caused them to be led astray from the leadership of Moshe and Aharon and consider an inanimate object to be G-d’s emissary? It seems irrational and incomprehensible.
Rashi (32:1) explains that at the root of the sin with the Golden Calf was that Moshe had told the Bnei Yisroel that he was scaling the mountain and would return in forty days. The people erred in their calculation and feared that Moshe would not return to lead them. Rashi quotes the Gemara (Shabbos 89a) which states that the Soton contributed to the fear that Moshe would not return. He created a mirage of Moshe’s body being carried in heaven in a casket. When they saw that, they believed that he had died and feared for their future without him leading them in the desert.
If so, why is the sin of the Eigel one of the most catastrophic to befall Klal Yisroel? Why were the people faulted for believing that Moshe would never return to lead them? How can we fault them for not believing what they saw with their very own eyes? How were they to know that it was a mirage set up by the Soton to fool them?
Their mistake, it appears, was their failure to question those images. They should have probed for the truth behind the mirage. They should have contemplated the possibility that their calculations were in error.
Despite seeing Moshe in a way in which he clearly appeared to be no longer alive, they should have still trusted his promise that he would return to lead them. They should have restrained the impulse to rush to a conclusion and immediately seek to find a substitute.
One of the ways in which the Soton causes us to err and sin is by inducing us with the urge of a quick response. Jumping to conclusions based on immediate assumptions and without a clear dissection of what has transpired leads people to serious errors. It is folly to act without seeing the whole picture and figuring out what happened by examining the circumstances from all angles.
Often, it requires much thought and consultation with people who are older and smarter. They have better analytical skills. They have also learned much from experience.
Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky was heard giving advice to a young man. “Listen to what that person is telling you. Ehr iz mit ah dor nenter. He is a generation closer to brias ha’olam. He understands better.”
When the people thought that Moshe was delayed and the Soton caused the Bnei Yisroel to fear that he would not be able to lead them anymore, they turned to Aharon Hakohein and said to him, “Come and make for us a god who can show us the way.”
Meforshim offer many explanations of this request. Some say that the Jews sought for themselves a leader with a Divine connection. Although they didn’t necessarily intend to perform avodah zorah, nevertheless, since they attached godliness to an inert object, they had committed the cardinal sin.
Others see the Eigel as a blatant sin of avodah zorah committed by a minority of the people. The others were also blamed for what happened because they did not protest what the minority was doing.
When approached, Aharon sought to delay the Bnei Yisroel from finding a replacement for Moshe until the next day. He told them to bring forward their wives’ golden jewelry. When thrown into a large fire, the image of a calf was formed. Aharon promised, “We will celebrate before Hashem tomorrow.”
The next morning, the people awoke early and began partying and engaging in promiscuous conduct. Aharon’s plan went up in smoke as the group sank to a depraved level. They quickly slid from holiness to depravity, and within a short time, they had gone from the apex of spiritual achievement to Hashem wanting to destroy the Jewish people.
Moshe pleaded that the people be saved. He came down from the mountain and called for those who were loyal to Hashem to join him. Only the tribe of Levi rallied to him. The shevet that dedicated itself to the study of Torah and was free from Egyptian enslavement was the only one that grasped that the need of the hour was to cast their lot with Moshe. The others were too far gone. They left the fold because they were convinced that Moshe wouldn’t return. And when he did return, they failed to heed his call.
Life often throws challenges of this sort our way. Things appeal to our senses, tempting us against our better judgment. We find ourselves being seduced by outward appearances and scenes that the Soton paints for us. We disobey our teachings, traditions and common sense, because we are dazzled or enraptured by something we can’t resist pursuing. We convince ourselves that there is nothing remiss with our behavior. We resort to all kinds of excuses and rationales to justify our actions.
A person of high standards can work hard and construct an edifice of Torah and gedulah. Unexpectedly, the Soton appears in various guises in an effort to bring the building crashing down. It may be through machlokes or perhaps the temptations of kinah, taavah and kavod. With his vast arsenal of tools, the Soton attempts to destroy what took decades of painstaking effort to build.
We have to see through his attempts to sow mayhem and remain loyal to the cause. Dare not be led astray. If the message leads to diminished respect for Torah or manhigim, that is a clue that something is amiss.
In every generation, there are people blessed with grace and charisma who feed opium to the masses. No matter how many are smitten by the charm, we must remember that our eyes fool us. We must resist the deceptions of people with self-serving agendas who tempt others to follow paths that they pave for them and demonstrate to be proper and necessary. Time after time, people are misled led down a path to destruction. The urge to enjoy life is so great that people ignore what their mind dictates and instead follow their emotions. Charlatans play on the innate urge for enjoyment and easily mislead people.
Instead of offering real solutions to the problems that confound their countries, politicians and leaders engage in demagoguery. Resolutions to disputes are only arrived at through calm, rational discussions, but they don’t even bother to try. Instead, they play groups against each other, alternately calming and inciting the masses as necessary to maintain their popularity. They create one crisis after another, never solving them, utilizing the mess for political opportunism.
Instead of the opposition encouraging investment and providing businesses with incentives to hire, they give speeches vilifying successful segments of the population. That makes the unsuccessful feel good, but it does nothing to contribute to a healthy economy, which would help people in a sustainable, honorable fashion.
It is simpler to demagogue and manipulate people’s thought processes, spreading fear and anxiety while polarizing groups that don’t support you. Instead of negotiating a solution to the country’s illegal immigration problem, one party erects a wall, promising to block the president’s plans.
The opposition is happier with every new investigation, though even as they mount, they accomplish little more than stymieing good governance and providing fodder for demagogues.
A political party that supports every deviant lifestyle and fights to grant rights to criminal trespassers in this country also supports the murder of living babies. A party that views a governor’s high school pranks with more seriousness and consequences than professional infanticide has corrupted any moral standards it ever had. The first steps on the path off the plantation were taken by people who claimed to be motivated by life and freedom. The path grew increasingly slippery and angled downhill as leaders bent the compass pointer further away from the earth’s magnetic field. Anti-Semitic newbies are placed on sensitive congressional committees and their transgressions are allowed to disappear. Still, almost half of this country supports the party that acts more irrationally every day.
Early Maskilim of the nineteenth century were religious people who sought to tweak some minhagim and halachos in order to perfect their religion and make it conform to the mores of the day. Haskalah was a Golden Calf that entrapped so many of our brethren, uprooting their beliefs and estranging untold thousands from their heritage.
Secular Zionism was another Eigel. On paper, it had a compelling logic. How many more pogroms could a beleaguered people endure? Those who bought into the ideology became ensnared in apostasy and ended up rejecting Torah.
In each instance, it fell upon the bnei Levi to rally around the Moshe of the generation and attempt to minimize the casualties.
The Soton works in other ways as well. He portrays death and desolation, planting seeds of despondency and despair among the Jewish people. The bnei Levi must not be deterred. They must remain steadfast in their devotion to Torah and its causes despite the apparent bleakness of the situation.
The rov of Ponovezh, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, lost almost everything during the Second World War. Most of his family, talmidim and townspeople, and virtually his entire world, were destroyed. He arrived in Bnei Brak after the war and set about rebuilding what the Nazis had annihilated. People thought that his war experiences had robbed him of his sanity. All they saw was death and destruction. It seemed obvious that the world of Torah could never be rebuilt. European Jewish civilization was gone and could never be replicated, they argued.
That’s what smaller people believed and said. Smaller people gave up. They considered the Ponovezher Rov out of touch with reality.
Smaller people see the confusion and falsehood spawned by evil forces in this world to confound people and destroy their confidence. The bnei Levi must resist the urge to view reality through despairing lenses, instead remaining purposefully committed to the greater truth.
The Lithuanian yeshivos and Chassidic communities, destroyed in the old country and rebuilt by determined penniless Holocaust refugees, are a testament to the fortitude and persistence of those lofty souls who are the Moshes of the generation and the bnei Levi who gather around them. Try as he might, the Soton could not conquer them and lead them down the path of the Golden Calf.
Millions of Jews fled to this country during the first half of the last century, victims of anti-Semitic persecution. Tragically, they and their children became lost to our glorious chain and heritage. It is not for us to judge them, but, apparently, they fell prey to the Soton’s lie that the new country demanded a new lifestyle and that those who clung to the ways of the Torah would never succeed.
The meraglim also failed, because they permitted their eyes to fool them. As a consequence of their refusal to accept the exhortations of Yehoshua and Kaleiv, they ended up revolting against Moshe, Aharon and even Hashem. They met the same fate as those who danced around the Eigel.
How do we save ourselves from drowning in a sea of illusion? How do we remain upright in a world turned upside down? How can we tell apart right from wrong, when the wrong seems so right? How do we discern truth from fiction in a world where the fiction is so seductive? We are driven to be successful and well-liked. How can we be expected to jeopardize that and battle our friends?
We must deepen our study of Torah and mussar, ignoring the flatteries that seek to derail us from the righteous path.
If we remain well grounded, our eyes won’t mislead us and we will remain uncorrupted, earning the brachos of Hashem.