When the people saw that Moshe delayed a long while before coming down
mountain, they gathered around Aharon and said to him, "Make us gods to go
before us. We are unsure of what happened to Moshe, the one who brought us
out of Egypt." (Shemos 32:1)
Last week I experienced something that shook me up. Actually there were
two things. The first one was a video presentation that made the case for
a major conspiracy that is so controversial; I'm not even going to talk
about it here. I realize that I am not being VERY unfair, but if I
mentioned it, then this week's Perceptions probably wouldn't even make it
What's the point? Next, the second thing also shook me up. You see, after
watching the video (and it is over one hour long), and I watched it more
than once; it shook me to my core. It answered so many questions that I
have had about the world today, and particularly about the direction we
are going here in Israel. However, it answered them in a way that I wish
My son, who is a hard-sell when it comes to conspiracy stories and stuff
like that, actually sat for the hour and watched it with me. When we were
finished, he turned to me and said, "Woe. This is incredible. No one will
believe me. They'll have to watch it for themselves."
And he was right. They didn't believe me either. In fact, being so moved
as I was I couldn't help but tell some of my closest friends, people who
usually relate to what I tell them. True, they might have given me the
occasional, "No way!" in the past, but in a way that always meant, "Wow!
That is hard to believe. Let me see what you are talking about!"
This elicited a different response. Without even caring to know what I was
talking about, without even having an inkling of the evidence that I had
seen, evidence that is so incredibly comprehensive and to the point, they
wrote me off before even questioning their previous knowledge of the
event. I expected serious and healthy skepticism; I experienced outright
denial. It was VERY disappointing, and actually, quite scary.
However, the next day, I saw another person who I know is an easy sell on
these matters. Like me, this person sees today's events in terms of the
End-of-Days, and is focused on seeing the hand of G-d in all that is
occurring. After I told this person about the video, the person told
me, "Don't you remember some time back listening to that tape by Rabbi So-
and-So, who spoke about the same matter?"
I paused to recall, and vaguely, I did.
"At the time you couldn't believe what he said," the person reminded
me. "You said it was too fantastic . . . too hard to believe."
I paused again, as I recalled my initial reaction back then. The person
was correct, but with a slight and important difference: I did not deny
the possibility that what I had heard was correct. It was just that,
without the actual evidence to prove his point, I had difficulty trusting
the veracity of the claim. After all, trusting what I heard on the tape
meant a major change in my way of thinking, something normal people don't
do without hard-core evidence.
Furthermore, I did not know the rabbi speaking on the tape, so I was being
asked to rely upon a stranger regarding the information I could not be
sure even existed. However, my friends know me well. I also make claims,
and put forth all kinds of Ends-of-Days material, but not without a source
to back me up, at least conceptually. So, if I was so anxious and even
somewhat confident in the truth of the video, shouldn't they have at least
wanted to see it first before shutting it out so completely, especially
with so much at stake?
As far as I can see, either the video is true, or the producer of it is
the true conspirator, going to a very great extent to falsify information
and documentation to make a case that doesn't exist. The latter, while
possible, doesn't seem likely, whereas the former, though at first it
didn't seem possible, all of sudden seems likely.
G-d told Moshe, "Go down. Your people which you brought out of Egypt
corrupted themselves. They have quickly left the way which I commanded
them. They have made a molten calf, and have bowed to it and sacrificed to
it . . . (Shemos 32:7-8)
What is behind the reaction of denial? If someone says to you, "I have
something important for you to hear (or see), and it can change your
life," what would your reaction most likely be? It all depends upon what
is at stake, and how much self-honesty you have.
If a person is dissatisfied with his life, then he is most likely to be
looking for something to happen in order to change it. However, if a
person is content with his life, and he is told that he may have to change
it, there is resistance. There are only two possible avenues the mind can
follow: either the information demanding change is wrong, or I am
wrong . . . and I will have to make the change, no matter how
uncomfortable it might be.
It takes a person devoted more to truth than to himself to be able to look
a different point of view in the eye and humble himself to it. The more
change that acceptance of an idea demands, the greater one's commitment to
truth has to be. Otherwise, a person feels quite automatically threatened,
moves into a defensive mode, and denies the truth.
The truth is, most of us react this way on some level. Personal growth is
dependent upon overcoming one's reaction of denial, because that is the
only way to confront what we do wrong, which is the first stage in
implementing life-enhancing changes. Otherwise, not only does the person
not grow, but his relationships don't grow either, and instead regress,
and all to often, disintegrate. And, it gets even worse: it turns into a
form of avodah zarah (idol worship). In fact, it turns into a golden calf,
or a Tower of Bavel. That's what both of them were about. They were all
about denial. For, the alternative to Migdal Bavel was G-d, something the
people of that time did not want to accept. Belief in G-d brings with it
responsibility, and that can bring denial out in just about anyone.
The Midrash says that there were three intentions behind the tower's
construction: 1) to war against G-d; 2) to plug the hole in the sky that
results in floods every 1,656 years; and 3) to create a new world order.
When G-d destroyed the tower, the part that represented war against Heaven
was completely destroyed. The part representing the building of a new
world order was partly submerged in the ground, and the part that was
man's effort to "naturalize" the Acts of G-d, remained intact.
Rav Frank, zt"l, one of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's foremost students
explained the Midrash in the following way. The part that was destroyed
meant that man no longer warred against G-d from that point onward, except
for Amalek. By the destruction of the tower, just about everyone realized
the futility of doing so, so they war in the name of G-d instead.
As for the plan for a new world order, that was partially submerged,
meaning, Rav Frank said, that it comes and goes throughout history.
Personally, I had never heard the term until 1991, when George Bush Sr.
invoked it upon his victory over Iraq after their invasion into Kuwait.
However, when he abruptly left office after one term, the phrase seemed to
have left with him. (Though, the people who helped him implement it did
not leave; many of them came back when George Bush Jr. was elected.)
As for trivializing the Acts of G-d, it's an ongoing habit of mankind.
Like people who can't wait until the weekend to rest, mankind is bent on
having its portion of Olam HaBah in this world. This feat is not so
difficult in the secular world, which allows one to indulge somewhat in
the weekend pleasures all week long. Perhaps that is why the Jewish people
have the mitzvah of Shabbos, and other special mitzvos to do the rest of
the week; it forces us to make the distinction between both, Shabbos and
weekday, and to stay somewhat focused.
For, even the Torah-observant can create a niche of simulated eternal
pleasure, especially in these times of prosperity and general acceptance
amongst the gentiles. So much comes so much easier for us these days:
Shabbos, Kashrus, Taharas Mishpachos, etc., and especially in places like
America, Canada, and England. Rock those boats, rattle those cages, and
you can get denial even from those who are supposed to be pursing truth -
THE Truth, from moment-to-moment in everyday life.
Even here in Eretz Yisroel, when talking to Torah-observant Jews who have
even gone so far as to have made aliyah for ideological reasons, you can
get reactions that state, without having seen the evidence otherwise: "We
can't be THAT far along in the process of Gog and Magog!" Can we?
Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her that bore you
rejoice!' (Mishlei 23:25).
The golden calf was a statement. For some, it was a way to naturalize the
miracles of the past two years:
He took all of it from them, and with an engraving tool formed it and made
a molten calf. They said, "These are your gods, O Israel, which brought
you up out of Egypt!" (Shemos 32:4)
Gods, yes. G-d, no. The former implies deities in the image of man, while
the latter implies a responsibility and debt of gratitude to the Creator
of everything. For, others, it represented the chance for a new world
order. Like the Tower of Bavel, the calf was an organizing element, the
center-point of a new world community bent on a life of eternal (gold)
youth (calf). One served this god with licentiousness, with a sense of
youthful abandonment. And, as always, the Erev Rav were, and still are,
its high priests.
Contrast this to the Kruvim from a few parshios ago, the youthful images
that adorned the top of the Aron HaKodesh. Youthful, yes. Abandonment?
Never, unless it is to G-d Himself. These "youths" were the ornament on
top of the vessel that contained the Luchos HaBris, and all the laws kept
within. It is wonderful to maintain a youthful attitude, the Torah
teaches, as long as the mind driving it is mature with Torah.
That was Yosef HaTzaddik. He was this uncanny combination of responsible
youthfulness, a term, that today seems like an oxymoron at best. Indeed,
it was the golden plate that was used to surface the bones of Yosef from
the Nile River that was thrown into the fire to produce the golden calf.
The makers of the calf captured Yosef's youthfulness, while leaving behind
his sense of responsibility and closeness to G-d. It is the combination of
both that is the source of true chayn, associated with Yosef specifically.
And Choni HaMaggel - the "Circle-Drawer", as well. The Talmud records that
during one of the periods of drought, during the Second Temple period, the
people turned to Choni HaMaggel - the "Circle-Drawer", to invoke a miracle
from Heaven. Choni went out before G-d and drew a circle around himself,
threatening Heaven, so-to-speak, that he would not leave the circle until
rain fell, which it did. He acted purely on behalf of the people, and on
behalf of Heaven as well. However, the rain did not come down in a
substantial amount, so he complained that the people did not summon him
for such a poor showing of salvation. So, Heaven complied and it poured,
an even greater miracle, enough to leave anyone watching in awe and
But not Choni. Instead, he complained that it rained too hard, and asked
Heaven to provide a pleasant rain, seemingly an outrageous request for a
flesh-and-blood creation to ask of the Master of the Universe. However,
once again, Heaven complied, and the drought came to a pleasant end, and
Choni left his circle, mission accomplished.
Nevertheless, in spite of Choni's miraculous antics, and the redemption
he "arranged" on behalf of the nation, he attracted some negative
attention as well, as the Talmud records:
Shimon ben Shetach sent to Choni HaMaggel, "You deserve to be
excommunicated, and were you not Choni, I would pronounce excommunication
against you. But what can I do seeing that you ingratiate yourself with
the Omnipresent and He performs your desires, and you are like a son who
ingratiates himself with his father and he performs his desires. To you
applies the verse, 'Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her
that bore you rejoice!' (Mishlei 23:25)." (Ta'anis 19a)
Interesting, is it not, that the word for "Circle-Drawer" - maggel, is
spelled: MEM-AYIN-GIMMEL-LAMED, the last three letters spelling the word
eigel (calf) as in eigel hazahav (the golden calf)? And, in Hebrew, the
addition of the letter before the noun transforms it into a verb.
For example, the Hebrew word dibur means word, but add a Mem before its
root word - Dalet-Bais-Raish, and the result is medabehr (speaker). Hence,
since Ayin-Gimmel-Lamed spells the Hebrew word for calf, one could read
HaMaggel as "calfer," so to speak. But, what is a calfer?
According to Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch, the addition of the Mem to a
word also represents the extension of the idea expressed by the root word.
For example, said Rabbi Hirsch, Gog is the philosophy, Magog is the
projection of the philosophy of Gog. Thus, Rabbi Hirsch held, the final
battle of Gog and Magog is destined to be an ideological one, a clash of
philosophies, one of those being Torah philosophy, the other one being the
Western world's approach to life.
Well, that has certainly come to fruition, especially here in the Holy
Land. Applying this approach, HaMaggel would mean that, whoever Choni was,
his life was a projection of the life of a calf, an idea that is supported
by the words of the Talmud itself:
". . . You ingratiate yourself with the Omnipresent and He performs your
desires, and you are like a son who ingratiates himself with his father
and he performs his desires. To you applies the verse, 'Let your father
and your mother be glad, and let her that bore you rejoice!' (Mishlei
Yet, to see Choni was to see an elderly man, until, that is, he went into
action to save his people. He was fearsome because he was fearless, a
trait of children who have yet to learn of what it is to be afraid. Or, as
an adult who acts as if he has nothing to be afraid of because he only
fears G-d Himself. Like the calf, as long as it is not a golden calf. The
Chonis of history can look reality in the face, no matter how scary it may
appear, deal with it, and not deny it.
"All that glitters is not gold." Normally this means that things in life
can appear to be valuable, but be, in fact, without much value at all.
That is the golden calf. Perhaps it can also mean that not everything that
shines is made of gold, at least on the outside. It can appear to be
without value, but in fact, be the greatest asset of society. On the
inside, it is another story altogether, and that was the story of Choni
HaMaggel, and before him, the story of Yosef HaTzaddik.
And, as we move from Purim to Pesach, we are supposed to learn that,
ultimately, it is the story of freedom as well.