Parshas Ki Sisah:
Khet HaEgal

By Rabbi Yehudah Krohn
Adar I 5757

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 Khet.
Verse I: "Three times a year shall all Jewish men appear before the Lord, Hashem." (Ex. 23,17)
Verse 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 Pnai HaAdon"

Verse II: "YeRaEh...Ess Pnai HaAdon"

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, does not.)

The aforementioned 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 see Him."

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.)

Further, although 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 observation:

3) What really happened by Khet HaEgel?

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 of idolatry.

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 fate.

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



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