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August 14, 1987 - Image 37

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-08-14

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Golden Calf Exemplifies
Humanity's Weak Hand


Special to The Jewish News


he infamous story of
the Golden Calf is
again vividly recorded
in this week's Torah portion.
Of all the many backslidings
of which the Israelites. were
guilty while in the
wilderness, this sin was
regarded as the gravest, a sin
which left an indelible im-
pression on the collective
psyche of our people.
We can well understand
why this sorry incident caus-
ed God and Moses such pro-
found disappointment. After
all, it was but a short time
since Israel had witnessed the
miracle of the Red Sea and
had received the rIbrah at Mt.
Sinai. Suddenly, the people
forget those wondrous ex-
periences and fashion for
themselves a graven image.
In worshipping the Golden
Calf our ancestors denied the

Shabbat Ekev:
Isaiah 49:14-51:13

very existence of the God they
"saw" at the shores of the sea
and "heard" at the mountain.
It is understandable,
therefore, that they be
punished for the grave sin of
And yet, according to the
Midrash, this wasn't the
reason at all for which they
were condemned. There was a
crime other than idolatry
that really defined their
wickedness. How many were
there, the rabbis ask, that ac-
tually took part in this tran-
sgression? Three-thousand
people. The Jewish popula-
tion at that time was certain-
ly more than two million
souls. Of this large sum, only
a tiny fraction were actually
guilty of the sin we common-
ly ascribe to all of the people.
Why then did God hold the
entire people culpable? Why
this condemnation of
everyone for the crime of an
insignificant minority? The
answer given by our rabbis,
which for all time is to define
the true nature of this gravest

Morton F. Yolkut is rabbi at Cong.
B'nai David.

transgression, is that was
considered the crime of all,
because the silent majority
did nothing to stop the wick-
ed minority. God reacted as
strongly to apathy and indif-
ference as He did to idolatry.
Only a few actually turned
astray — the remaineder were
silent. Says the Torah, all are
equally guilty!

Silence is golden goes the
familiar proverb, but the Bi-
ble alters that just a little:
Silence is the Golden Calf.
For that, in fact, was the ma-
jor sin of our ancestors.
Today, thousands of years
later, times have changed, but
human nature has not and we
still suffer from the sin of
silence. In this generation we
suffered the tragic loss of
millions of our brethren dur-
ing the Holocaust in part
because there were so many
decent people who felt that
silence was the best possible
response to the rise of
Nazism. And for many years
our Jewish community re-
mained silent about the terri-
ble fate of Soviet Jewry and
even now, many Jews have in-
volved themselves in raising
their voices in solidarity with
our Soviet brethren in their
heroic battle for freedom.
We live in an age that can
watch murders committed
without being moved to in-
volvement; that can be
witness to crime without in-
terfering; that can be
repeatedly exposed to evil
without any response on our
The words of the
philosopher Edmund Burke
have a renewed urgency for
our time. "All that is
necessary for evil to
triumph," he wrote, "is for
good men to do nothing."
Is this not precisely what
Judaism has been preaching
for thousands of years? Our
sages tell us that there is a
very important reason why
the tefillin (phylacteries) must
be placed on the hand that is
the weakest. We would expect
that symbol which reminds
us of our responsibilities to
God be placed on the hand
that is more capable of doing.
But no, say the commen-
taries, it is not in the category
of the things that we do that
we need most to be reminded
of God; it is rather for our
hand of weakness, which all
too often fails to act, that we
require a constant and
dramatic religious reminder.

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