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GOLD RUSH

by Rabbi Elie Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

It is the opinion of Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, that the mishkan (the temporary Tabernacle in the desert) was erected as a way to atone for the great sin described in this week's Torah portion - the Golden Calf.

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It is the opinion of Rashi, a major commentator on the Torah, that the mishkan (the temporary Tabernacle in the desert) was erected as a way to atone for the great sin described in this week's Torah portion - the Golden Calf. One who studies Rashi's commentary to both the sin of the Golden Calf and to the section of the Torah dealing with the mishkan notes the following peculiar similarity. As Aaron relates to Moses what occurred to precipitate the sin of the Golden Calf, he states, "I threw [the gold] into the fire and this calf emerged" (Exodus 32:24). Rashi points out that the calf was made by itself, without Aaron's effort.

A similar phenomenon occurs with regard to the menorah in the mishkan, about which the Torah states, "hammered [out of a single chunk of gold] shall the menorah be made" (ibid. 25:31). Rashi explains that the passive wording "be made", as opposed to the more common active form, indicates that the menorah was also made by itself. He continues to explain that Moses had difficulty with the construction of the menorah because of its complicated nature, so Hashem told him to throw a chunk of gold into the fire and the menorah would emerge on its own. Thus, both the menorah and the Golden Calf were made by hurling gold into a fire, forming by themselves. What significance does this correlation have?

The Brisker Rav, a major leader of world Jewry at the beginning of the century, states that the root of the sin of the Golden Calf was not an overt desire to worship idols. In fact, the Jewish people originally intended for the calf simply to act as a replacement for Moses (whom they thought had died while atop the mountain) as an intermediary between them and Hashem. If so, what caused their grievous transgression? The root of the sin was that the Children of Israel were willing to innovate a new form of relating to Hashem without consulting with Aaron.

Therefore, explains the Brisker Rav, when the mishkan is actually constructed in next week's portion, the Torah continually stresses that everything was made "as Hashem commanded Moses." The master builders and craftsman, although they certainly had their own ideas about how to improve upon Hashem's plan for the mishkan, simply listened to the Divine directives without incorporating any of their own changes. In a general way, we can see how the mishkan was an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

This lesson is demonstrated more sharply in the specific instance of the menorah. The Talmud (Tractate Bava Batra) informs us that the menorah could not be fabricated even by Moses, but instead had to be produced through a miracle of Hashem. This symbolizes the idea that all wisdom can ultimately be attained only through Hashem. Even Moses, the greatest man alive, was unable to comprehend everything, and had to turn to Hashem, the source of all wisdom, for assistance. If this is true, then to attempt to innovate in His service contrary to His wisdom is illogical. How can we be wiser than the source of all wisdom?

Therefore, the menorah was made in the same way as was the Golden Calf. We are being told, "If you would like to make innovations in the service of Hashem, hurling a chunk of gold into the fire to make an idol which you consider to be an improvement, consider the menorah and the lesson which we learn from the fact that it too could not be made without Divine assistance and was therefore formed in the fire by itself." It doesn't pay to try to be smarter than Hashem. It is He to whom we turn for wisdom and understanding. Let us try to use this gift in congruence with His Torah.

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Rabbi Elie Cohen, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a founding member of the Columbus, Ohio Community Kollel.

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