Life Lessons from the “Golden Calf” Episode

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier, Rosh Kollel

One of the most puzzling, perplexing, bewildering portions of the Torah is the incident of the Golden Calf.

How is it possible that after having witnessed Hashem’s presence at Har Sinai, that people would make the implausible act of violating a directive from Hashem as not to create “forms” that are in “Heaven”? “לא תעשון אתי אלהי כסף ואלהי זהב”

HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel זצ“ל , who was the Mashgiach in Lakewood Yeshiva, a person whose understanding of human nature was profound and singular, taught that there are many fundamental lessons to be derived.

Let us remember that in Egypt בני ישראל were greatly involved with idol worship. As it states; “But they rebelled against Me… They did not forsake the idols of Egypt.” (יחזקאל כ‘, ח-ט) How was it possible for them, fifty days after the exodus from Egypt, to reach the spiritual level of having Hashem speak to them directly (פה אל פה); to attain the spiritual level of Adam, ,אדם הראשון  before he ate from the עץ הדעת, the Tree of Knowledge? The resounding, unequivocal answer is that we are taught הבא לטהר מסייעין אותו . If one truly, relentlessly desires to conduct themselves in the manner that G-d prescribes for us, he will gain a silent partner, who will magnanimously facilitate its accomplishment; that being G-d Himself.

It therefore follows that when one is confronted with situations and tests of life which need focus and assistance from Hashem, one has to be cognizant that the only manner in which to overcome hurdles is with Hashem’s help.

Human nature is the opposite; we want to declare כחי ועצם ידי , I am, I can, I am able to create, conquer, and be productive on my own. If we lose the correct focus of the true dynamic of success; then we lose our partner, Hashem, and yes, we can create a golden calf.

Another lesson is the following: A person could have a revelation, one can witness a miracle. For example; a person who has been told by a doctor that he or she has an inoperable brain tumor has disappeared; at that moment it’s obvious that there is a G-d who performed a miracle.

But a month or a year later the person is once again, an agnostic or one who believes in G-d, but still conducts their previous pattern of living.

To truly change, to with certainty not lose the power of the moment, necessitates constant intellectual and emotional focus on their invaluable experience. Human nature demands that one can only effect change by relentless fixation without any divergence, and repetitive actions which inculcate a new perspective as part and parcel of one’s personality

Though they had witnessed the awesome, “earth-shattering” experience of הר סיני . They had squandered the opportunity of acuity through constant focus and therefore made a terrible mistake.

The third lesson is that the revelation of Hashem at Mt. Sinai included their ability to “see” the happenings in “Heaven” itself. That is what the prophet יחזקאל , Ezekiel in Chapter 1 describes, “And I saw… the forms of four distinct living beings…” (the celestial chariot) was discerned by all of the Jewish people.

But a revelation of the metaphysical sphere necessitates dogged contemplation, intellectual resolution and repetitive action. To apply a vision of the supernatural to the life of a human can’t be correct without a determined, truthful effort. Those who were involved with the Golden Calf had not dedicated the necessary time to truly understand the implications of their newly found revelation in order to use it properly.

Three major lessons: change is the most difficult challenge and accomplishment of life, we need G-d’s partnership.

We are not creations of intellect or emotion but rather what creates our essence is constancy of behavior. To thoroughly and “perfectly” understand what is presented to us demands sincere deliberation, reflection and action.


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