Parashat Ki Tisa

By Rabbi Moshe Vosoghi:

Parshat Ki Tisa reveals perhaps the most dramatic and tragic story found in all of the Torah — the story of the Golden Calf. Just a few months after ‘Believing in Hashem and Moshe’, and just a few weeks after ‘We will do and we will listen,’ the Jewish nation turned their back on Hashem, declaring a statue to be their new leader. The pasuk recognizes this rapid turn of events, as Hashem said to Moshe, “They have quickly turned away from the path I have commanded them…”

Reb Chaim Shmulevitz asks that Avoda Zara is not something that people simply fall into. Rather, there is a slow process, where the Yetzer Harah first entices a person to one sin, and then another, and then eventually into Avoda Zara. Considering the slow nature of falling into this sin, coupled with the fact that Klal Yisrael was just at their spiritual heights, how can we possibly explain their rapid fall into the lowest depths?

Reb Chaim points out a particular trick the Yetzer Harah played on Bnei Yisrael. Up until Matan Torah, Klal Yisrael was under the constant guidance and care of Moshe Rabbeinu. He was with them through the makkot, when they marched out of Egypt, and when they crossed the Yam Suf. He led them through Marah, and brought them to Har Sinai. But for the past forty days, he had left them, in order to learn the Torah with Hashem. Seeing an opportunity, the Yetzer Harah caused the Jewish nation to believe Moshe Rabbeinu had died. The shock and trauma of such sudden terrible news had the desired effect. Klal Yisrael was taken by mass confusion, as turmoil and chaos set in. And in this turbulent setting, the ground was fertile for the most terrible of sins, Avoda Zara.

During a time of tranquility, when one has all of their senses, it is easier to fight off our base desires. What, then, does the Yetzer Horah do? He throws tumult, chaos, and confusion at us, keeping us off balance. At that point, we are much more likely to waver, wobble, and even fail. It is difficult, if not impossible, to control the chaos in our lives. However, if we are aware how susceptible we are when our normal routine is disrupted, we will be much better prepared to deal with the impact on our avodat Hashem.