Last year I downloaded a new iPhone app for Divrei torah on the weekly Parasha. That week’s Parasha of the week is ‘Purim’. It seems that this week’s actual Parasha, Ki Tisa, and the Sin of the Golden Calf, are overshadowed by the holiday. The sin was a key moment in Jewish history that I could not ignore it. Therefore, I decided I was going to compare the story of Purim to the Sin of the Calf.
When I went to Poland, our motto was ‘connect to your past for the sake of the future’. Connecting to Bnei Yisrael’s sin helped the Jews handle the difficult times in days of Mordechai and Esther.
When Bnei Yisrael thought that Moshe was not returning with the Tablets, “the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, ‘Rise up, make for us gods that will go before us…’” (Shemot 32:1). In the story of Purim, the underlying reason why the Jews lives were at stake was that they gathered at the feast of Achashverosh. The pre-requisite to each sin was the Jews uniting. Nevertheless, unity could have the opposite effect, as will be explained below.
After Bnei Yisrael gathered and built the Calf, “the people sat to eat and drink…” (ibid. 6). Regarding Achashverosh’s feast, “the royal wine was in abundance…and the drinking was according to the law, without coercion” (Esther 1: 7-8). “Without coercion” could imply that the Jews sinned by drinking non-Kosher wine willingly. Drinking can lead to sin but now, during Purim, we drink to counter that.
Hashem then got furious with Bnei Yisrael. He said, “Let My anger flare up against them and I shall destroy them…” (Shemot 32:9). After Haman rose up in power, he said, “It is not befitting the King to tolerate them [the Jews]. If it pleases the King, let it be recorded that they be destroyed” (Esther 3:8-9). In both cases, the Jewish nation was facing destruction.
When Moshe found out what Hashem was considering, he “pleaded before Hashem” (Shemot 32:11). After the decree to kill the Jews was set, Mordechai “cried loudly and bitterly” (Esther 4:1) to Hashem. When facing annihilation, the leaders of the Jews at the time prayed to Hashem.
After Moshe prayed, “Hashem reconsidered regarding the evil that He declared He would do to His people” (Shemot 32:14). When Esther begged Achashverosh to save the Jews, he relented and said, “You may write concerning the Jews whatever you desire” (Esther 8: 8). The “decree” in both cases flipped around.
Since God was helping us, it was the Jews turn to do their part. Moshe said to Bnei Yisrael, “’Whoever is for Hashem, join me!’-and all the Levites gathered around him” (Shemot 32:26). After a new decree was sent out allowing the Jews to fight for themselves, “the Jews gathered themselves…to attack those who sought their hurt; and no one stood in their way” (Esther 9:2). As mentioned above, ‘gather’ hints to a sense of unity. When people unite, they can accomplish anything. In the beginning, the Jews organized themselves to sin. However, they rectified that sin by uniting with each other for the better.
As we see, the general stories are quite similar. Even a few more details correlate to each other. By the sin of the Golden Calf, the gold used for the Calf was the gold taken from the Egyptians. While Moshe was praying to God, he points out the sin but stresses the fact that it was gold. Rashi suggests that Moshe was defending Bnei Yisrael explaining that Hashem gave them so much gold that it was detrimental. After Achashverosh reconsidered the decree, he allowed the Jews “to destroy, slay, and exterminate every armed forces…and to plunder their possessions” (Esther 8:11). However, “They did not lay their hand on the spoils” (ibid. 9:10). On a superficial level, Bnei Yisrael learned their lesson from the Gold Calf that too many riches can lead to sin. On a deeper level, this could have been a rectification for the sin of the Calf. Rambam writes that the ultimate repentance comes once you are in the same position to do that sin again, and you do not do it. The Jews had the opportunity to take many riches but they understood that this is their chance to complete the repentance. Now that they repented, they can reaccept the Torah.
Before the Golden Calf, Bnei Yisrael received the Torah from Hashem. There is a Gemara explaining that Hashem held the mountain over the heads of Bnei Yisrael, essentially forcing Bnei Yisrael to accept the Torah. This leads to skepticism and potential criticism of our faith. At the end of Megilat Esther, regarding the Jews, the text says “Kimu V’kiblu”. Both words seem the same as they mean, “Accepted”. The commentators explain that they accepted what was already accepted. In other words, Bnei Yisrael re-accepted the Torah, but this time completely out of will. On a deeper level, Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah but committing a grievous sin, they lost some of that connection to Torah. In certain ways, Purim was a rectification for that sin. We were able to re-accept the Torah and reinvigorate our connection to it and our relationship to Hashem.
When I went to Poland, our motto was ‘connect to your past for the sake of the future’. Connecting to Bnei Yisrael’s sin helped the Jews handle the difficult times in days of Mordechai and Esther. When facing Iran, the same country as in the story of Purim, we must do the same.
We also must not take Torah lightly. Sinning and deviating from Hashem will make it harder for us to connect but we cannot give up. We have to rectify it, repent, and keep striving to develop our connection to Torah. Without Torah, would Mordechai have succeeded? Without Torah, where would we be today? Without Torah, where will we be in the future?