Parshas Ki Sisa
By Rabbi Raymond Beyda
"I have seen this people and behold it is a stiff-necked people" Shemot
The incident of the Golden Calf has raised many questions throughout the
centuries. How could the people fall so far spiritually so soon after the
Revelation at Sinai? How could a generation called the "dor deah" -the
Generation of Wisdom" -state "These are your gods O Israel" referring to
their own golden earrings and bracelets? Could a people who heard en masse
G-d's declaration "I am the Lord your God" kill the son of Miriam - Hur -
in a mob like frenzy because he tried to talk them to their senses? These
and other questions prompted the various explanations of motives and
transgressions as well as justification and explanation of the events of
one of the darkest days in the history of our people.
One question that requires interpretation is that in referring to His
anger and His plans to destroy His people Hashem does not really express
anger or resolve to punish because of the sin of idol worship. Instead, He
refers to the nature of the sinners. "They are a stiff-necked people" is
repeated to Moshe several times as he desperately attempted to appease the
Lord and gain absolution and forgiveness for his people. Why is this the
cause of so much Heavenly wrath? Isn't it the idol worship that really
violates the Torah's commandment 'Thou shall not have any other god'?
The message is that stubbornness in the face of rebuke increases the wrath
of God. He calculates as follows. Since they are stiff-necked they will
not admit their sin. It follows that they will not repent nor make amends.
The only option then is to destroy them. The prophet Yirmiyahu says: "Here
I shall pass judgment upon you for saying I have not sinned". In other
words if a person does not acknowledge that he or she has done wrong one
will not be prompted to fix the wrong in the future. Should one take care
of the weakness on one's own it does not require Heavenly rebuke from
The Samak says that one must love those who criticize and correct. This is
a misvah. If one was going to an important meeting and another points out
a stain on his suit or an important file that he forgot - he would
probably thanks the person and appreciate the help provided. When one is
criticized for behavior not in keeping with Torah commands then one should
feel grateful to the one who has benevolently pointed out the spiritual
Stiff-necked people don't change. They resist improvement and repel
criticism. A flexible person seeks growth and is able to accept comments,
which can yield spiritual advance and eliminate weak adherence to the
Torah and its statutes.
The lesson of the Samak is clear. Listen to your critics. They are the
best friends you have. Love their advice and take it to heart. If Hashem
sees you working on yourself He will leave you as He patiently watches you
attempt to grow. It is only those who stubbornly resist growth and deny
weakness that arouse anger.
It can really hurt if one has a stiff neck.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Raymond Beyda and Torah.org.