Avidan Freedman

Before Unity- Responsibility!

Yachad Nenatze’ach- Together, we will win!” They cried, as they killed Hur who had tried to raise a critical voice against their united efforts to build a golden calf.

Aharon, on the other hand, decided that the better part of valor was to cooperate with them, and it’s not hard to understand why. He, after all, was a man of peace, not of discord. And let’s be honest, he wanted to survive. His actions can certainly be defended, but ultimately, Moshe is critical of him: “What did this nation do to you, that you brought on them this great sin?” Even after hearing his explanations, Moshe still believed that the nation was “corrupted because Aharon had corrupted them.”

The greatest tragedy in Jewish history up until that point could have been even worse. It was not only Aharon that refused to assume responsibility for the disaster. God is no more eager to be associated with it, telling Moshe that this was the fault of Moshe’s people, not of His own. Neither does God suggest to lay the blame at Moshe’s feet. On the contrary,  he offers Moshe an easy pass, and even a promotion: I will destroy the entire people, and make you into a great nation.

The greatness of Moshe as a leader was not only that he refused this offer, but that he went two steps further for the nation. First, he brazenly refused to let God off the hook- “renounce the evil to your nation.” Second, and more significantly, he was willing to sacrifice himself in order to gain forgiveness for the people- “erase me from Your book that You wrote.”

The story of the golden calf reminds us of two critical messages for our time.

The first is that unity can be dangerous, and that unity can lead to destruction, and to the silencing of voices that are critical, in both senses of the word. The second is that real leadership is measured in the willingness to assume responsibility, and to sacrifice.

Shirking responsibility is what the sin of the golden calf was all about. After hearing the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people really should have known exactly what to do. They certainly knew that it was forbidden to create a graven image. But they had become so addicted to their great and all-powerful leader, the one they credited with getting them out of Egypt, that they couldn’t stand his extended absence. They were willing to substitute anything for him, even a calf, just so long as responsibility would lie on someone else’s shoulders, and not their own. It’s easy to unite around a flight from responsibility, because it doesn’t demand anything from anyone.

What is so powerful about the unity that we have seen in Israel since October 7th is that it is the polar opposite of this. It is unity that comes from responsibility, and that involves great personal sacrifice. It is the unity that comes from the willingness of people to give everything for one another, in the battlefields and on the homefront. It is the unity that comes from people leaving their homes on the morning of October 7th without anyone calling them, and giving their lives to try to save others from the hands of Hamas. It is the unity that comes from soldiers serving for months on end, leaving their lives, their families, their businesses, in order to sacrifice for one another and for the nation. And it is the unity of the entire nation involved in non-stop giving and volunteering for the sake of evacuated families, injured soldiers, and the hostages.

The nation has done its part. It’s high time we demand of our leadership to do the same. If we are feeling that our sense of unity is unravelling, is becoming cynical and abused, perhaps it is because our leaders have not followed the example of the people. Their calls for unity ring hollow because they are not based in taking responsibility, nor in the willingness to make personal sacrifices.

While it’s tempting to avoid the knee-jerk criticisms that getting specific will certainly invite, we don’t have the luxury to be ambiguous anymore. So let’s make it very clear. What it means for our leadership to take responsibility is that every single person who was in a position of responsible leadership at the time of this tragedy should immediately announce their intention to resign, each one from their party and their position, to make room for new leadership. If Moshe was able to believe in the people enough that he was willing to sacrifice himself, and know that they could continue without him, even after they had committed the gravest sin in his absence, then certainly our leaders should have absolutely no doubt that they will be making room for the people to choose new leaders from an exceptional nation that has proven its worthiness beyond the shadow of a doubt.

If after five months, our leaders have not learned the lesson of sacrifice and responsibility from their people on their own, it’s time that we insist on it.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.