by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
How we tend to mock our leaders and strive to find fault! Those who are willing to be our leaders, giving up any semblance of privacy for the sake of the common weal, should be rather praised for their courage. The historyof the latter half of the twentieth century however, served to dispel a somewhat naive faith in government. The Torah sees the idea of government as intrinsically good!
Our tradition asks us to consider personal reign over our emotions to be the highest form of government possible. Conquering our evil inclinations towards self-serving anti-social tendencies is a much lauded Torah value. Beyond personal forms of government are responsible conceptualizations of larger social varieties. The Noahide laws adjure us to have police and courts of law, while Pirkei Avoth teaches that "were it not for the fear of government, people would eat each other alive."
And yet we also find in Pirkei Avoth a cautionary reminder that we not associate too closely with government! Kings of Israel were bidden to write their own sifrei Torah to keep by their side as a reminder to follow the laws of an even higher authority. So we should understand that responsible government is seen as a good, all the while the prophets railed against the excesses of despotic tyrants and fools.
The prophets strove to implement a healthy corrective, ensuring (in theory at least)a working system of checks and balances in ancient Israel. Israel was barely a nation when disillusion with its leadership set in. Constant carpings idealizing the good life in Egypt served to undermine Moses' authority. Finally in our parsha, Ki Tissa, the opportunity to act on a magnitude above and beyond complaint presented itself. We thus have proof that thoughts lead to words which in turn lead to actions.
The fact that the Golden Calf narrative is preceded by a warning to keep the Sabbath is instructive to understanding the source of the people's disillusionment. One could argue that it was rather fear for Moses' safety and thus fear of a leadership void which served as a catalyst for this episode. Nonetheless,were it not for a seed of disillusion planted by the mixed multitude that left Egypt with Israel (the eirev rav), those fears could not have been acted on with such passion.
Why not just put Aaron, the number two man, in charge? Why resort to following the very antithesis of the present leadership? The narrative on the Sabbath stresses a consciousness and respect for the number seven. Seven then becomes the ideal to which the leadership is held.
The very next chapter, the Golden Calf episode, commences its narrative with an unusual word in the first sentence (Ex 32:1)."Vayar ha'am ki voshesh Moshe laredet min hahar..." Voshesh is traditionally understood in its peshat, or plain meaning, as "was delayed." Thus it is normatively understood as, "And the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain..." On a deeper level, however,one could (mis)read the line as "b'shesh," instead of as "voshesh." So now it could be translated as, " And the people saw Moses come down from the mountain "with a SIX consciousness," whatever that may mean.
Here was this great leader preaching about "the great number seven," who himself is rather now seemingly enthralled with the number six! Or possibly, it may mean that here he was coming down from the mountain on a Friday (the sixth day), so how could he possibly prepare for shabbos adequately on the same day!? "Here we are being lectured to on the laws of the Sabbath, and our very own leadership seems to be disregarding its sanctity (not true in the least)."
What rank hypocrisy they might have felt in their leadership.How could they NOT be disillusioned! How could a Golden Calf NOT seem abetter leader in that very moment!? In other words, they expected better in their leadership. In our own lives, everything we do and say leaves an imprint on others who observe us. And no one observes us more than our children.
And to live a disconnect, to live life in a contrary manner to our teachings and our espoused values does more than cause disillusion. It causes psychic pain! In their anger and rage our children might rebel by acting out against ourvalue system- but not because they believe that the opposite way is better! They might act out against what we hold as sacred precisely to point out our own failings as role models.
Now it should not be inferred that Moses had in fact done anything wrong in this case! It is possible he was just misunderstood, or inadvertently caused misunderstanding. Rashi himself states that Moses said he would return on the fortieth day. The question is, when does the counting begin, on the very day it is announced (today) or on the day he actually leaves (tomorrow)?
A lack of clarity and forthrightness in communication can be deadly, particularly in a leadership context. Before he became Prime Minister of Israel, General Ariel Sharon in 1982 declared he would advance only forty kilometers into Lebanon. But is the distance to be measured from Rosh Haniqra or from Kiryat Shemona? The difference determines whether one enters Beirut or not. Indeed he went into political exile on account of the ramifications stemming from this confusion. Was it merely a lack of clarity or was it wilfull prevarication? Mortals may neverknow.
When Aaron was pressed into service to help make the Golden Calf, at its completion he cries out, "chag ladoshem machar", "tomorrow will be a festival for G*d." Now here Aaron himself may have been purposely misleading. He may have been communicating to the people in code so that his captors would not understand. Indeed, he may have actually meant,"tomorrow G*d will show His great compassion for us." G*d's compassion is eternal and never ending, always in the present moment.
Why then would he say"machar," meaning "tomorrow?" The answer is that it is a code within a code. Machar is reverse for Rachem! Rachem means "mercy." Aaron knows that people forced against their wills to do the wrong thing, while unfortunate,is *ultimately* forgiveable because of the absence of free will. Aaron and the people were considered "anusim," or those who were forced against their wills to violate their conscience (the Conversos in Spain come to mind). G*d, being the master of forgiveness, the compassionate loving ruler, in the end will grant atonement and forgiveness because the all important element of volition was missing.
G*d is the ruler over all in the ultimate sense, the Supreme Government. He speaks to us directly through the words of His Torah, with both clarity and compassion. May we be blessed to bring clarity to our goals, and communicate to others as clearly as possible those goals. And may we be forgiving of others who may at times disappoint us in their very human failings.
To err is human, to forgive, Divine.
© 2000 - 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)
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