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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

When he approached the camp and saw the eigel and the dancing, Moshe got angry. He cast the luchos from his hand and broke them at the foot of the mountain.

Meshech Chochmah: At the core of the Jewish nation are Torah and belief in Hashem. All kedushah is a derivative of them. All that we treat as sacred, be it Eretz Yisrael or Yerushalayim, is nothing but a detail or subset of the larger Torah, and draws its special holy character from the Torah itself. The Torah’s authority is universal, in that it applies to all people and at all times. All stand equal in their essential obligation to it, both the great and the simple.

The greatest of people – Moshe Rabbenu – is described[2] as having no other role than as a faithful intermediary, conveying the Torah to the people from on High. Torah does not inhere in Moshe. He has no part in its content or authority. Those are sourced entirely in the Source of all sources, in Hashem Himself.

Holiness, in other words, is not an inherent property. It is not even a constant property that continues on, once attached to something. Rather, it is a function of an ongoing connection with Hashem, Whose closeness to it is what generates and continues holiness.

This is not as intuitive as you might think. In fact, many people struggled with the notion of G-d as the infinite and limitless Cause of all existence, and Who is entirely beyond the reach of human comprehension. If He is so lofty, so remote what is it, then, that provides the spiritual energy of the palpable, observable world, in all its complexity? While G-d may be the ultimate Source of all existence, surely something else – acting on His authority –is the active agent that brings order and purpose to vastness of the physical world. That something else, conceived of as a surrogate of the inscrutable G-d, was the ultimate spiritual being that Man could really relate to. Man’s religious service would be devoted to this lesser divinity.

This, then, became a common search of pagans. They would create different images, believing that they could invite this more immediate and comprehensible divinity to take up residence within those icons. The great Supervisor of the Universe would then join those people, and be venerated by the community.

Many of the Bnei Yisrael had not purged themselves of this belief. They had seen Moshe the same way – as a being in which this active supervisorial spirit had become carnate. When Moshe delayed in returning, they immediately set out to provide a substitute home for the being that weeks before had taken them out of Egypt.

Moshe’s reaction was furious. “Do you think that I am somehow inherently special, and that is why I ascended the mountain to bring you the Torah? I am a human like you! The Torah does not depend on me at all. Had I not been born, Torah would exist in its fullness and without any change whatsoever. I have no role in its existence.”

Evidence of this would come soon enough. For thirty-eight years that the Bnei Yisrael were banned from entering the Land, Hashem would not speak directly to Moshe. The Divine Word did not come naturally to him. He was not possessed of some essential holiness and power; his access to G-d was a function of Hashem’s closeness to His people!

The mishkan and batei mikdash also evidence that holiness derives entirely from Hashem’s residence within them, and not from any intrinsic properties. Titus suffered no injury when he entered the Holy of Holies with a courtesan. He did not defile a holy place, because by the time he entered, it was no longer holy! The animating source of its holiness was the Shechinah, and it had departed prior to Titus’ arrival.

Similarly, the keruvim were not mysterious articles of veneration. They served as reminders of the existence of angels, and symbols of the spiritual status of the Jewish people, by either looking at each other (at times of national elevation) or away from each other. They sat atop the aron, but not in it. Inside the aron were only the luchos – and a sefer Torah! Those were what counted!

We can now appreciate the fuller meaning of our pasuk. Moshe approached, and saw the eigel and the dancing. He saw that the people around the golden calf were fully into its service. There was conviction written all over their faces. Moshe did not find people who paused every now and then to look back at the mountain, to see if perhaps Moshe was still on his way. Moshe was able to approach the camp without anyone noticing that he had arrived! Moshe realized that the people believed in faulty ideas about himself, about Providence in the physical world, and about the nature of holiness.

He therefore taught a powerful and dramatic lesson. He shattered the luchos. He said, in effect, that the tablets had no intrinsic holiness, and could be broken if they no longer served their purpose. If the luchos, inscribed by Hashem, could be treated that way, then so could anything else under the right circumstances. No earthly kedushah was inviolate, because every thing’s kedushah was contingent upon its connection to Hashem.

While the Rambam identified thirteen principles of faith, some are logical outgrowths of others. We should understand the fifth principle – that we do not pray to any entity other than Hashem – follows directly from the first principle, the existence of a Being Who creates and oversees all other existence. Those who worshipped other beings could not believe that G-d could or did supervise events in the lowly, physical world. Nor could they accept the notion that there is no supervision, and all phenomena occur randomly. They found such a position absurd and unbelievable. That led them to the conclusion that G-d must have left room or delegated authority for oversight of our world to some other being or beings. Those people who worshipped, propitiated, longed for those authorities would be able to tap into their reservoirs of good.

Their mistake was in failing to accept the first principle, which leaves no room for any other. If Hashem is the sole cause, creator, and overseer, there is nothing else that can be worshipped!

If this reasoning sounds familiar, it should. We review it twice daily when we recite the Shema, proclaiming to the world that Hashem, the cause of all existence is Elokeinu, our G-d, meaning that He alone in fact provides the providence and oversight for all events in our lives. Because this is true, He is One, meaning that there is no need to invent any deity or intermediary to receive our prayers.

[1] Based on Meshech Chochmah, Shemos 32:19

[2] Devarim 5:5