Most commentaries explain that the intent of making the Golden Calf was
not idol worship, but to have a tangible entity for enhancing worship of
Hashem (see Ramban, Kuzari). Why was it such an unforgivable crime?
Judaism maintains that G-d has no tangible components or aspects. With
the verse "Shema Yisrael," we express this fundamental belief: Listen and
understand, fellow Jews -- G-d is entirely one, has no counterparts or tangible
aspects. The mitzvah to believe in Hashem alone was only given to the Jew;
the nations of the world are not bound by this obligation, and it is not
a crime for them to think that Hashem has partners. For the Jew, however,
such a belief would be tantamount to idolatry. (Such a belief is called "Shituf,"
and a Jew may be required to give his life rather than admit to such a faith.)
For many people, it may be a quite a challenge to develop a faith and
a service to G-d which is not dependent on any external need or craving.
If the coffee helps you to concentrate, have your cup of coffee. But if you
absolutely must have your coffee or you cannot serve, then the object of
your service is no longer clearly discernible. Perhaps you are "serving"
The generation that left Egypt did not intend the Golden Calf to be an
object of idolatry. The image was merely symbolic of a spiritual force that
could help direct their service to G-d. The fact that they required an
intermediary, and could not serve Hashem directly -- caused that they lose
the covenant that Moshe had negotiated, the Covenant of Israel.
This idea sheds some light on the difficult story of the "Akeidas Yitzchak"
-- the Binding of Isaac on the altar. Avraham had to show that his devotion
to his son was an aspect of his service to G-d, and not the reverse -- that
he served because he wanted a son, or anything else.
It also helps to explain the forced servitude, exile and suffering decreed
upon the Jewish People, all of which was told to Avraham.
Avraham, who began the Jewish nation, surely set the example for Israel.
His life expressed the attitude of the continuation of the Shema: "You shall
love Hashem you G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might..."
As Pirke Avos states: "A love dependent on a material object is not a love."
2. Sefer Halikutim: An Important Commentary for the "Drug Age."
Wine -- Or Happiness?
There are two laws regarding Purim festivities: drinking wine and rejoicing.
One would think: surely, there is a connection between the two, as the verse
says, "Wine causes man's heart to rejoice," and the Talmudic dictum: "There
is no simchah other than wine."
The Sefer Halikutim found the Rambam's decision at odds with the Talmud.
The Rambam writes (Hilchos Megilah 2:16): "One drinks until he becomes tipsy,
and falls asleep." How is this compatible with the Talmud? "A person must
imbibe on Purim until he cannot distinguish between 'Blessed is Mordechai'
and 'Cursed is Haman.'"
The verses in the Megilas Esther (the Scroll of Esther) describing the
decrees of Purim, mention "mishteh" and "simchah". "Mishteh" indicates festive
eating, and of course, drinking -- all the miracles of Purim involved the
"mishteh hayayin" the merry drinking of wine. "Simchah" means rejoicing.
Why is it necessary to state both -- the merrymaking and the rejoicing? Surely
the wine alone would bring about rejoicing, or the rejoicing alone should
Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic
From the repetition, the Sefer Halikutim deduced the following requirement:
the "simchah" -- rejoicing -- must be independent of the "mishteh" -- festive
eating and drinking. We must rejoice intrinsically, not because of an external
This is why the Talmud says to drink until he doesn't know -- surely,
this is not simchah! Similarly, the Rambam suggests to drink until he falls
asleep -- sleeping, too, is not the simchah. Thus, the requirement of "simchah"
is distinguished from the festive drinking.
In a similar manner, the Shev Shmaitisa explained ("b'derech drush" --
not the literal meaning of the verses) the complaints of the Israelites regarding
the delicious mun (manna). The mun had a drug-like quality that intellectually
stimulated. The people complained, and desired -- far from rebelling, they
wanted to learn Torah out of their own free will and intellect, without the
coerced impetus of the drug.
Chodshei Hashanah (Part Fourteen)
Why aren't there two days of Purim in the Diaspora, as there are for
Yom Tov (festivals)? The legal compendium Mordechai (beginning of Tractate
Megilah) provides a seminal answer. 1. It is considered that we are knowledgeable
of the correct calendar. 2. There is a specific verse in the Megilas Esther
(Scroll of Esther) that prohibits adding further days for the observance
The Maharshal (quoted in commentaries to Shulchan Oruch, Orech Chayim
288) indicates that both points are necessary. (1.) We are knowledgeable
of the correct calendar. If there had been a real doubt, we would nonetheless
observe two days. Although (2.) the verse limits adding additional days,
this is only where there isn't an actual doubt. Therefore (as discussed in
the last issue), those dwelling in cities where there exists reasonable doubt
as to whether they were walled in ancient days, indeed observe two days.
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