The Sin of the Golden Calf - Its Message to Us

This past Shabbos, we read the story of the Golden Calf. Hazon participant, Binyamin Feldman, has a beautiful insight on this story - one which is revelant to the themes of our recent letters, including the letter about Moshe Rebbeinu - Moses, our Teacher - and why we do not worship a human being. It is therefore my privilege to share this Torah teaching by Binyamin Feldman with all of you:
The Sin of the Golden Calf:
The Torah refers to Moshe Rabbeinu as “Ish haElokim” - Man of God (Deuteronomy 33:1). While every human being is created in God’s image, that image is originally dormant and needs to be actualized. One of the primary ways in which we actualize the likeness of God that we bear is through emulating God’s ways. One possible interpretation of the title “Man of God” is that Moshe epitomized the emulation of God to the point that he fully activated his Divine Image.
 As long as Moshe was present, the Jewish people had a living example of how to reach closeness to God through emulation of His deeds.
When Moses had disappeared, according to our calculations, we were left bereft of any tangible guidance of how to attain closeness to God. For this reason we reached the unfortunate conclusion that it was necessary to produce some concrete object that would serve as a go-between between ourselves and God. We felt that as physical human beings, we need something concrete on which to focus in our service of God.
What we did not appreciate, however, was that each and every one of us, even in his physical existence, and certainly in his spiritual makeup, serves as a reminder of Godliness. The fact that each person is created in God’s Image, as it were, should be enough to incorporate God’s existence in the world. Obviously, this is not to say that the human being should be regarded as a physical image of God. Rather, the fact that we are created with the potential to emulate God’s traits to the point of being considered to be in His image is a concept that is within our reach, and we no longer require some external, material representative of God.
The Torah  (Deuteronomy 11:22) commands us to cleave to God, and Rashi, citing the Talmud (Sotah 14a), queries: “Can man really cleave to God? He is a consuming fire! Rather, this refers to cleaving to His attributes: just as He is compassionate, so shall you be, etc.” In other words, the very idea of establishing a relationship with God is only possible through emulating Him, which is in turn possible only because we exist “in His image”, i.e. with the inborn potential to be similar to Him. Any attempt to establish a relationship with God that does not take this route is bound to end in idolatry.
The verse in Psalms (106) states, concerning the sin of the Golden Calf: “They exchanged their honor (kavod) with the sculpture of a grass-eating ox”. Throughout Psalms, the word “kavod-honor” is used to refer to the soul. In this context, the verse could mean that the Jews exchanged their soul, which, with its mirroring of God’s presence, should have served as the entity that would connect them to their Creator, with the image of an ox.
According to this interpretation, the root of the sin of the Golden Calf, and of idolatry in general, is the failure to fully appreciate the Divine Image in which we are created, which enables us to have a true connection with God. 

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