Sunday, February 24, 2008

Parshat Ki Tissa 2

Real Leaders

One of the most difficult things for a spiritual leader is to remain in touch with his or her people. It is so easy to become drawn into the spiritual realm and leave the physical, material world behind. However in so doing, a leader may become inaccessible and no longer able to relate to others. This was the fear of the people which led to the building of the Golden Calf. “The people gathered themselves together around Aharon, and said to him, “Make us a god who shall go before us, for Moshe, the man, who brought us out of the Land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.” (Exodus 32; 1-2). The people were not abandoning G-d, but thought that Moshe had become lost to them.

They wanted an idol, not as a false god, but to lead them. They saw Moshe enter into the fiery darkness of Mount Sinai and they were afraid that he was no longer able to relate to them as mortals. The Talmud (Shabbat) states that with each utterance of the Ten Commandments the souls of the people would depart, and they had to be revived by angels, and yet Moshe went to speak directly to G-d. The people were concerned that they had lost their intermediary, and no longer had any means of communicating with G-d. Therefore they created a new figurehead for themselves, “to go before them”.

We see that G-d was also concerned that Moshe was losing touch with the physical world, thus becoming unsuitable as a leader. “And G-d spoke to Moshe, ‘Go down, for your people… have become corrupt’” (ibid. 7). Rashi explains that G-d told Moshe to go down from his exalted position, because his eminence is only due to his being the leader of the people. If he is unable lead them he is no longer able to remain before the Divine Presence.
The people chose to make a calf, a domestic beast, because they were looking for a leader to whom they could relate, one who can translate their normal lives into a spiritual experience. A calf is trained to work in the fields, to do the most mundane tasks. That is the sort of leader that the people want and need.

The Torah hints to us why Aharon was the most suitable person to build this intermediary. He was the leader who retained his connection with the material world, despite his exalted spiritual status. The Torah describes Moshe as judging the nation “from morning until evening” (ibid. 27; 13). The Talmud comments on this that though he was not literally judging from morning until night, the Torah ascribes this to him to teach that anyone who judges a case fairly and honestly is considered a partner with G-d in creation, which was also created with day and night.
The S’fas Emes points out that Aharon is also considered a partner in creation. He is to light the Menorah from evening until morning (ibid. 37; 20). However there is a fundamental difference between Moshe’s creation and Aharon’s. Moshe takes the day, the clear revelation of the Torah and the Divine Presence, and brings in down to the level of night, the darkness and confusion of everyday life. Aharon’s function is the opposite; to elevate the world, in the chaos of night, and bring it to the level where it can hear the message of Divine Light. This is why Moshe sits in judgement, dispensing the truths of the Torah to the daily realities of life, whereas Aharon lights the Menorah, elevating the physical and turning it into light.

This is why the people asked Aharon to make the idol for them. They were able to relate better to his method of relating to the physical world and elevating it. They were not afraid that he would forget what it is to be human. Therefore he is the high priest of the idol also. Moshe the man has gone, the nation cry out for a new leader whom they can relate to, to bring them G-d’s message. Aharon is the one with whom they can speak, and the calf represents the physicality of the world, and the baseness of human existence, whereas Moshe represented spirituality. Thus the calf had to be destroyed in order to allow the people to attain the spiritual heights shown to them by Moshe. Though they were not on the same level as Moshe, they had the potential to be so and in order to do this the calf had to be destroyed as it held them back spiritually.

No comments: