D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero



Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


In this week’s portion the Jewish people commit the sin of the golden calf. This is an almost inexplicable event, since it occurred a mere forty days after the Jews had heard G-d speak at Sinai.

Obviously this sin was not as simple as it seemed. The people who committed this sin had a misunderstanding of their role vis-a-vis G-d.

What is equally difficult to understand is the number of Jews involved in this sin. Popular perception is that the entire nation was involved. The reality is that only 3000 people were involved. If this is so, why was G-d so upset by this incident?

At Mount Sinai all the Jews stood together and received the Torah. When they received the Torah it was not merely a covenant between them and G-d, it was also a connection between them and their fellow Jews.

The Talmud, tractate Shavuos 39a, states: “Kol Yisroel areivim zeh lazeh—all Jews are considered co-signers (i.e. responsible) for one another.”  “Cosigner” is a very strong word. When a person cosigns on a loan, and the original borrower cannot repay, the cosigner assumes responsibility for the loan.

And indeed, although there were so few people of the Nation of Israel involved, nonetheless, the fact that this sin was allowed to happen speaks ill of the entire nation. What does it mean that it was “allowed to happen”?

Obviously, the need for the golden calf, which stemmed from the erroneous notion that the Jews needed an intermediary between them and G-d, was widespread. And while fewer than one percent of the Jews committed the sin, by not preventing it the others were implicated in the offense. All of Israel, after all, are cosigners for one another.     

This one line is the rationale for so many commandments in the Torah. Tzedakah — charity — is one prime example. We should not help our fellow Jews begrudgingly; rather, we should help them because we are responsible for them.

Isn’t this idea ethnocentric? Shouldn’t we be more universalistic?

It says in the second verse of the Torah: “And the Divine Presence hovered above the water.” This means that when G-d created the world, He did so in order that there be a “place” for Him in this world.

In order for this to be possible, there had to be a place ready to accept His presence. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, G-d awaited the concept of Avraham, meaning the concept of a person who understood the world had a goal, and would take it upon himself to lead others to achieve that goal. The Jewish people, descendants of Avraham, accepted upon themselves this difficult, yet crucial, task for the world’s survival mission ( the Talmud, Avoda Zara 2b, relates that G-d asked representatives from all the nations in the world if they were willing to accept this mission and all declined).

We as Jews have the job of being the world’s teacher. This often leads to resentment from other nations. Hitler wrote that “the Aryan and the Jew cannot coexist” because the Jews have “marred the perfect body with circumcision and given the world a conscience.” The second statement (which Hitler borrowed from Nietzsche) is quite true.

Since we have this responsibility, our goals are different from the rest of the world. We believe that when the world is redeemed the whole world, not just the Jewish world, will be filled with peace.

But until then our goal, and ultimately the world’s goal, is better reached by our separartion. This does not mean complete separation, but in matters such as marriage it certainly does. And we must always heed the advice given by the Chassidic Rabbi, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, when asked about our relationships with non-Jews: we must be different, but not indifferent.


Home ] Up ]