By Rabbi Yehudah
There are few topics
in the Torah that have been subjected to as much scrutiny as Khet
HaEgel (the Sin of the Golden Calf). That the Jewish people could
have sunk to such base idolatry so soon after having witnessed G-d's
might, is truly baffling. In order to address this issue, I would
like to view Khet HaEgel from a unique vantage point. The Mitzvah
of Aliyah L'Regel (the thrice annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the
Temple) was given both preceding and following the Khet HaEgel. A
close examination of the before (Egel) and after (Egel) snapshots
of this Mitzvah reveals the Khet HaEgel's effect on the Jewish people.
With this information, we can, in turn, determine the nature of the
I: "Three times a year shall all Jewish men appear before
the Lord, Hashem." (Ex. 23,17)
II: "Three times a year shall all Jewish men appear before
the Lord, HaShem, G-d of Israel." (Ex. 34,23)
Ibn Ezra notes that
only the second version makes reference to G-d of Israel. He attributes
the neccessity for a new reference to Khet HaEgel but does not elaborate.
There is another difference.
It is found in the original Hebrew.
Verse I: "YeRaEH....El
Verse II: "YeRaEh...Ess
Both are rendered:
"Shall appear before the L-rd". The latter phrase, though,
is translated thus only through a non-standard usage. (Explanation:
An intransitive verb, ie. YeRaEH/Shall appear, may only be folowed
by an indirect object. "El", as a preposition, accomplishes
this. "Ess", which tends to relate more to direct objects,
grammatical quirk in, this, the post-Khet HaEgel version becomes
truly significant in light of the Rabbis' Ruling in Tractate Khagigah
(2b): "The visually impaired are exempt from the Mitzvah of
Aliyah L'Regel, as it says YeRaEH/Shall appear (which is alternately
vocalized) YiR'EH/Shall See. Just as He sees you, so too shall you
According to HaRav
Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg TZ"L, in Ksav V'Hakabalah,
this alternate reading was neccessitated by the otherwise irregular
presence of the word Ess. (Explanation: Only with the new reading
can the "direct object" related "Ess" appropriately
be preceded by the transitive verb, "YiR'EH.)
the Rabbis' statement was primarily directed toward a legal issue,
in a broader sense, it impacts on the very nature of Mitzvas Aliyah
LaRegel. We are now, after Khet HaEgel (Remember, "Ess"
is found only in the post-Khet version.), commanded to see, as well
as be seen, by G-d.
We can now ask:
1) What is the added significance
of seeing G-d?
2) Why did seeing Him become
relevant only after Khet HaEgel? and, returning to our opening
3) What really happened by
Ibn Ezra maintains
that Khet HaEgel did not represent a complete abandonment of G-d,
but rather the seeking of an intermediary. The people wanted to
create a tangible force through whom and to whom they could communicate
and pray. The notion that G-d delegates or shares His supreme authority
with other beings may seem less sinister than all out paganism.
Nevertheless, it is termed "Shituf", and deemed a form
The Ran, in a discourse
on the origins of ancient idol worship, notes that the people had
convinced themselves that G-d was too important (and they themselves
too unimportant) to maintain a direct relationship. Perhaps this
tragic underestimation of spiritual self worth carried over to the
Jews at Sinai. During their deliverance from Egypt, the splitting
of the Red Sea, and even the receiving of the Torah, they played
relatively passive roles. This might have diminished, in their eyes,
their own spiritual ability to relate to G-d, thus leading to the
search for intermediaries.
In light of this,
we can now appreciate (post Khet) Aliyah L'Regel's added function
of YiR'Eh/seeing G-d. No longer would it be merely sufficient for
us to submissively appear before G-d. Such an approach if left unbalanced,
could (and did) lead to disaster. We were now instructed to ourselves
see G-d. That is to take a more active role in relating to G-d and
the wellspring of spirituality within us. It is possible that this
is what the Ibn-Ezra also had in mind. Of the three refeences to
G-d, the new one (G-d of Israel), more so than the other two, intones
a personal dimension.
It is safe to say
that nowadays the temptation to worship otherworldly intermediaries
has subsided. Yet, in our day to day existence, we encounter challenges
not wholly unlike that of the Egel. We face customers, clients and
supervisors who, not occassionaly, appear to be in control of our
Yet G-d, and G-d alone,
is the final arbiter of all that befalls us. May we learn from the
Khet HaEgel and its subsequent healing process to internalize this
reality and act accordingly.
Published and İFebruary
25, 1997 by the Chicago Community Kollel