Shabbat Parashat Ki Tissa| 5766
A Strange Replacement
Imagine that you are sick and find out that your doctor is on vacation. What do you do? Would you ask your cell phone what medicine to take?
The question that is repeatedly asked on our parasha is how Bnei Yisrael, only weeks after experiencing the unparalleled, awesome revelation of the Divine Presence, could so easily demand an idol to lead them. The Ramban provides one of the most well known answers (on Shemot 32:1). He says that they were not looking for an alternative to Hashem but an alternative to Moshe in his leadership role as an intermediary between Hashem and the nation. He notes, among other things, that they asked for something to “walk among us,” rather than a deity.
However, this explanation is difficult. If they wanted to replace Moshe, they should have found a human replacement, who could act as Moshe had. If their religious state had deteriorated to the point that they did not want Aharon, they might have chosen a Korach or Datan, who would have gladly offered their services. But how did believers in Hashem think that a hunk of metal could replace a human being? (It is easier for an idol to take Hashem’s place, k’v’yachol, in a person’s eyes, because man can anyway not fathom what Hashem is.)
The key to understanding the Ramban’s approach appears to be along the lines that we presented last week. In truth, Moshe, perhaps the holiest man in the history of the world, was still a man who functioned as humans do, albeit on a much higher level than others. But to some people at the time of the Exodus, the splitting of the sea, and the giving of the Torah, Moshe ceased to be a person. They saw him as a heavenly-sent, Divine miracle. If he was missing, there was no point to look for the best possible human replacement. In these people’s eyes, a replacement was inconceivable, even heretical. He would have to be replaced by another miracle, an intermediary between man and Hashem, who defied the rules of nature. Their memories brought back images of idol worship, which they rejected, in principle, but were influenced by, in practice. They decided that even though an idol was not G-d, idols could still bring about miracles, which man through his efforts to follow Hashem’s word in proper faith could never do. The line between that dangerous concept and true idol worship was quickly blurred and within a short time, some began worshipping the Golden Calf itself.
Sometimes good but naïve people glorify a concept or a person beyond its real, albeit elevated, status, turning it into something supernatural. They may surround it with such an aura that they perceive the concept or person so indispensable that they do not look for the best replacement. The Torah requires that people put even ideals and people of Moshe’s incredible level in proper perspective (only Hashem is incomparable). Thereby, they can avoid dangerous mistakes, which can come out of despair when their “idol” appears to desert them.
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