Parshas Ki Sisa
Understanding God's Judgments
One of the most persistent and troubling questions regarding the event of
the Golden Calf, as recorded in this week’s parsha, is: “How could Aharon
have done what he did?” Did he not realize the consequences of his action to
himself and his family, as well as to the people of Israel generally? After
all Aharon is to be the paradigm of Jewish priestly leadership for all
generations to come.
And yet the Torah records for us that Aharon rose from this debacle, albeit
at a tragic and heavy price to him and his family, and became revered as the
ultimate High Priest of Israel. In this, he resembles the story of Yehudah,
who also inexplicably falls into strange and unacceptable behavior and yet
arises from his situation to become the leader of the tribes of Israel and
the founder of the royal house of Jerusalem.
The Torah seems to emphasize to us the recuperative powers of these
individuals as examples for us, while dealing with their negative actions
and consequent punishments in a more indirect fashion. The Torah excuses no
sins and gives no one a free pass on one’s negative behavior.
Yet, all of the champions of Israel have baggage associated with their
stories and descriptions of character as portrayed in the Torah. Yet, even
accounting for human frailty, the question begs itself as to the causes of
Aharon’s behavior regarding the construction of the Golden Calf. And, over
the ages, the commentators to the Torah have wrestled with and attempted to
solve this problem.
I suspect that it was Aharon’s great and unconditional love for the Jewish
people that drove him to cooperate in the construction of the Golden Calf.
Moshe’s love for Israel was also unbounded and unconditional but Aharon was
incapable of Moshe’s tough love approach. He therefore sought to mitigate
the evil act that he felt was inevitably coming and tried to soften its
He was willing to provide Israel with the excuse – “Look, Aharon was with us
and he participated in the Golden Calf, so it was not entirely our fault,
and it could not have been that bad.” There is a concept in Judaism called
aveirah lishmah – a sin committed knowingly but for a higher purpose, for
the sake of Heaven itself, so to speak.
A sin committed for the sake of the eventual salvation of the Jewish people
from destruction is still a sin - but it has a moral content to it that
allows the sinner to rise and recover after participating in that sin.
Aharon’s love of Israel, in this case misplaced and exaggerated, was
nevertheless the cause of his redemption and of his becoming the High Priest
of Israel for all history.
Such an insight aids in understanding the complexities of personality and
circumstance that this week’s parsha occasions. It is beyond human abilities
to make such reckonings and judgments. However the Torah does allow us a
glimpse as to how Heaven deals with such issues and we should be most
grateful for having that insight brought to our knowledge and attention.
Rabbi Berel Wein