“Five tragedies occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz; the luchos were smashed, the korban tamid was no longer brought, the walls of Yerusholayim were pierced, Apustomus burnt a sefer Torah and he brought a graven image into the Heichal of the Beis Hamikdash.” (Taanis 26a). As we know, Moshe Rabbeinu smashed the luchos when he saw the people dancing around the golden calf. And Hashem congratulated him on this, saying Yeyasher Kochacho sheshibarto.” (Devarim34:12, Rashi).
We are told to remember the sin of the golden calf every day. “Remember; do not forget how you angered Hashem in the wilderness.”(Devarim 9:7). The sin of the golden calf was very serious. However is still difficult to understand why we have to remember it every day. And why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” Also, we are told that with every punishment we receive, a bit more will be added because of the golden calf (Shemos 32:34)). Why? Are all succeeding generations responsible for the sin of that generation? Surely the pasuk says, “The fathers shall not die for the sins of the sons, nor the sons for the sins of the fathers; each man shall die for his own sin.” (Devarim 24:16), unless the children continue the sins of the fathers (Brachos 47:1). Do we continue to build golden calves? Besides, only three thousand people were actively involved in the sin, that is, a half a percent of the people. And why did it “anger” Hashem so much more than other sins?
Our question will become even stronger when we consider the mitzvah of the para aduma and its deeper significance. If a person touches a corpse or even goes into a room where a corpse is lying, he becomes ritually impure. He becomes an av hatuma who can even pass on tuma to another person. The only way he can purify himself is through a complicated procedure involving a para aduma, the details of which were beyond even the mind of Shlomo Hamelech to understand. Why is there such a consequence for touching a corpse or being in the same room? Death happens every day. “A generation comes and a generation goes.” (Koheles 1:4) It is the way of the world. “A man’s life is three score years and ten and if he merits it, eighty years.” (Tehilim 90:10) He was a great man? There will be other great men. The cemeteries are full of ‘indispensable’ people and the world continues. Why does proximity to a corpse have such major implications?
“I said that you were gods and sons of the Most High. But you will die like men; like one of the princes you will fall.” (Tehilim 82:6-7). When they received the Torah, the Jews regained the level of Odom Horishon before his sin and no-one would have died. But because they sinned with the golden calf they will die like men.” (Avoda Zara 5a) Every death is a reminder of the sin of the golden calf. Without it, there would have been no death. Therefore coming into close contact with death has to be a major event so that a person considers why this happened. The Torah commands a complex procedure with a para aduma to cancel out the effect of the tuma. We cannot treat death as just “the way of the world.” We must remember the cause of death – the sin of the golden calf.
But this only reinforces our original question. What was so ultra-significant about the sin of the golden calf that we have to constantly remember it. Why the double expression, “Remember; do not forget.” What has to do with us? And why did it “annoy” Hashem so much?
A person has a chronic illness which needs constant medical care. He has a very conscientious doctor who has followed his illness for many years and prescribes a certain medication in amounts which vary according to the patient’s precise condition. But then he hears the tragic news; the doctor has passed away following a sudden heart attack. The patient is besides himself. “Who is going to treat me now? Which other doctor could possibly be knowledgeable enough about my condition to prescribe the right dose of medication? Oy veh.”
Another person never did well to earn a parnasa. He was always getting into debt. Fortunately he had a rich uncle who always came to his rescue. Then, again, tragic news. The uncle was suddenly niftar. At the funeral he wept copiously. In truth, he didn’t love his uncle so much. He loved himself. How on earth is going to manage from now on?
In another example, a certain politician was very sympathetic to the needs of his Jewish constituents. He always seemed to know who to speak to when the Jews had a problem. Then, catastrophe. He lost his seat in Parliament and was now unable to help. “Sounds of fasting, crying and lament filled the street.” The Jews had lost their saviour; their sister in the king’s palace was no longer. Who will help them now?”
How would we respond to these situations? Like the Jews in each moshol or differently?
When Moshe Rabbeinu failed to appear after forty days there was panic. “Moshe, the one who took us out of Egypt, who brought us across the Yam Suf, who went to receive the Torah on our behalf, had disappeared, presumed dead. They looked at each other in desperation. Who was going to provide for them now? When a person is in a state of panic, he does not follow his sechel but his base instincts and they made a golden calf or at least supported the idea of a golden calf. Hashem was extremely “annoyed.” A king might see one of his subjects transgressing his law and punish him. But if a king saw that this subject has forgotten about him and thought that a servant had been providing for them and not the king, the king would be very annoyed. This is a treasonable offence. The king will never cease reminding his subjects from then on that he and only he provides for them.
Everything Moshe had done was only as a messenger of Hashem. Without Moshe, will everything stop? Is Hashem short of messengers; short of doctors, rich uncles, politicians, Jewish leaders? “Harbe sheluchim L’Makom” ‘On the day that one tzaddik dies, another one is born.”(Kiddushin 72b). “Lo almon Yisroel – Hashem will never desert Israel.” (Yirmiyahu 51:5). Moshe Rabbeinu is not even mentioned the Hagada; only “I and not an angel; I and not a seraph; I and not a messenger; I am He and no-one else.” Moshe was the archetype servant of Hashem. Not only was he horrified that the people had apparently put their trust in him rather than Hashem but he realized that it was unconscionable that, under these circumstances, they should receive the luchos which was fashioned by Hashem. So he smashed them; an act that Hashem agreed with and congratulated him for. “Yeyasher koach sheshibarto”
Now we can understand the Jews’ grievous error when they made the golden calf. We have to remember it constantly and some of the punishment for building the golden calf is given to us because we are not immune to it ourselves. Yes, we sometimes repeat the same sin in different forms, putting our faith in Hashem’s messengers rather than in Him. The mitzvah of Para Aduma which we cannot understand with our sechel because its details are, to us, inexplicable, reminds of the sin of the golden calf which we did because we panicked and didn’t use our sechel. And finally we can understand the double expression. “Remember” the actual sin of the golden calf and “Don’t forget” that we can also transgress the same sin, just in different way.
 A favourite saying of my late friend Mr Hymy Gillis of Glasgow ע”ה