How did the Jews, who had just weeks earlier personally experienced the Revelation at Sinai and the Ten Commandments, justify their demand for an idolatrous golden calf?
Well, on the face of it, it did seem as if it might have been a genuine expression of a need for leadership. What was their argument? Make for us gods who will lead us, because this man Moses who took us out of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him (Exodus 32:1). Moshe was still up on the mountain, appeared to be late in returning, and they feared he wasn't coming back at all. The people's demand for a visible, tangible leader to replace Moses appeared reasonable. Arguably, it seemed to be a sincere call for religious guidance and for a means of better identifying with the One G‑d.
But where did it end? Not only in blatant idolatry but also in adultery and even murder. The verse (ibid., verse 6) reads "And they arose to revel". Commentary interprets the word litzachek--"to revel"--as depraved merry-making which included wild orgies of unbridled immorality and the killing of Hur, son of Miriam, who tried to stop them.
Here we find a profound message as relevant today as in days of old. It sometimes occurs that people make demands cloaked in piety or religious fervor. But, beneath the surface lies a selfish desire and sinister motivations. Often, people ask for G‑d, when what they really want is sin!
Where was G‑d during the Holocaust? This most disturbing question may be asked in a variety of ways. It could be out of a genuine desire to understand the most challenging philosophical issue of the day. On the other hand, it might also be asked almost flippantly as a convenient excuse for one's own religious inadequacies.
A good test of where the question is coming from is this. If I gave you a watertight answer for the question of G‑d and the Holocaust (assuming I had one), would you begin living a G‑dly life? Would you start putting on tefillin today? Will you be in Shul tomorrow? If not, then the fact that you don't do so now cannot be attributed to your having a gripe with G‑d. Either you weren't raised with that important tradition or you aren't sure how to do it, or perhaps you just couldn't be bothered and are using the Holocaust as a convenient rationalization.
Do you know how expensive it is to keep Kosher? Again, this may be a passionate cry of religious zeal, or perhaps a real concern to make kosher food more accessible to the masses. Unfortunately, it might also be a cheap excuse for someone who has no intention of keeping kosher at any price.
I once heard a story about three Jewish apostates in Russia of old. They met for drinks in the local tavern and were discussing the reasons why each of them left the faith. One says being a Christian opened new doors for him in business. The next said he fell in love with the squire's daughter and had to convert to marry her. The third says he had philosophical difficulties with the Torah and Talmud and was inspired by the theological doctrines of Christianity. Whereupon his friends told him in no uncertain terms that he was bluffing. "That story you can tell the goyim," the other two turned scoffed. "Us Jews you can tell the truth..."
Let us be honest. Why blame our own inadequacies on a mysteriously inexplicable G‑d or on a Judaism we find fault with? Why say we are looking for G‑d when we are really looking for the path of least resistance? Let us not abuse that which is holy for purposes of self-justification.
Even if we are not prepared to live a holy life, at least let us be honest.
The Union County Torah Center - Chabad is a Jewish educational outreach center and synagogue serving Union County with Shabbat & Holiday services, Hebrew School & youth programs & Adult Education. The center is not membership oriented and is open to the public.
Rabbi Levi Block can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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