After experiencing some of the most incredible miracles and outward displays of Hashem’s power, the Bnei Yisrael slipped up in the worst way. This week’s parshah tell the tragic tale of the Golden Calf. After receiving the Torah, Moshe went up to Har Sinai for forty days; but after the allotted time by Bnei Yisrael’s calculations had passed, he had not returned. A group of people decided that Moshe had not survived his trip to the heavens, and built an idol to be their leader. While Avoda Zara is always considered one of the worst aveiros one can commit, for this group that had seen Hashem on Har Sinai just forty days earlier, it was unthinkable. The consequences of this tragedy still affect us today.
“וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם” “And they said, ‘These are your gods, Yisrael, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Shemos 32:4). Rashi explains that the people speaking in the pasuk are the Eirev Rav, the collection of Egyptians who came out of Mitzrayim with the Bnei Yisrael. They built the calf and afterwards they convinced the Jewish People to sin as well. While this may help us feel better about the whole situation since it was not the Bnei Yisrael’s idea originally, we still must ask that how could the Eirev Rav, who also saw Hashem at Har Sinai, have the gall to serve Avoda Zara only forty days later?
Chazal tell us that the level of miracles that even a maidservant (meaning someone on a low spiritual level) saw at Krias Yam Suf, was greater than anything any prophet ever experienced. Let’s consider this for a moment; if what a maidservant saw was greater than anything a prophet saw, how come a Navi is given such great honors while this maidservant remains for all of history as nothing but a maidservant? How come she isn’t afforded even greater honors than a Navi for the tremendous spiritual level she was zoche to experience?
The Sichos Mussar explains that someone who experiences a level of spirituality without having worked their way up to the level they are experiencing will not be changed as a result of it. The prophets worked for years and years with a hope, not a guarantee, that they would one day receive the smallest bit of prophecy. Therefore, as great as they were before they received the prophecy, the prophecy itself would bring them to even higher levels of spirituality.
The Eirev Rav fell into the first category. They had not worked on themselves upon leaving Mitzrayim as the rest of Bnei Yisrael did. But since they were together with the nation, they too experienced all the miracles at Har Sinai. However, this had no effect on them whatsoever, since they had not worked their way up to that level. Therefore, even after going through an event like Har Sinai, they were still able to serve Avoda Zara only forty days later.
The gemarah in Megillah (6b) states, “אם יאמר לך אדם …לא יגעתי ומצאתי אל תאמן יגעתי ומצאתי תאמן” If a person tells you, ‘I did not make the effort and I succeeded’, do not believe him. If he says, ‘I worked and I succeeded’, believe him.” When a person works at something, he makes it his, it becomes a part of him; that’s how he truly succeeds at his task. When his goal is handed to him, even though he has ‘accomplished’ his goal, because he did not make it his, he did not really accomplish anything.
Our goal in life is to work at being the best we can be every day. Even though, it is very possible that we will never reach the highest goals of spirituality that we all strive for, we see from here that receiving that spirituality is not the entire story. Without the work involved, the goal is worthless, because it will never be really ours. But if we do that work, even if we don’t reach that lofty goal, we will still have accomplished great things. This week’s parshah teaches us that this is the way to insure that we will deserve and retain the effects of the spiritual levels we reach.
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