"Up, make us a god who will go before us." (Exodus 32:1)
Taking matters into your own hands is not always a good thing. The children of Israel were provoked by the mixed multitude into producing a golden calf. And what was the intended purpose of the golden calf? Not to replace or represent G-d, but to replace the man Moses, for "we know not what has become of him." (Exodus 32:1) The people confronted and compelled Aharon the high priest and brother of Moshe to act upon their demand. Buying time, Aharon calls on the people to collect their gold and bring it to him. The resulting debacle is well known: a golden calf is created, an altar is build, the people sink into hedonistic revelry, and Aharon announces a festival to Hashem on the morrow. Finally, G-d, silent up to this point, commands Moshe to go down from the mountain, and return to the people and see for himself. In G-d's words to Moshe, "...they have made a molten calf, and have worshipped it and have sacrificed to it, and said: "This is your god, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 32:8)
Uncertainty and fatigue had left the people exposed to evil incitement. An innocent "stand-in" for Moshe brought about debauchery and ultimately, avodah zara - idol worship. Moshe rabbeinu has been described by our sages as a sort of best-man at a wedding, an interlocutor between G-d and the people of Israel. Replacing him with a lump of gold, even if done with the best of intentions, was the first step in the return to the avodah zara that had been so pervasive in Egypt.
"And the L-rd spoke to Moses, saying: You shall also make a laver of copper..." (Exodus 30:17-18)
No, not the inspiration of the rabble, or even of the finest of the generation, but a direct commandment from G-d. The laver was not intended as an intermediary between man and G-d, or even as a surrogate Moshe, as was the golden calf. The copper laver, the first vessel with which the priests would come in contact with in their daily service, was an instrument for the washing of the priestly hands and feet. By washing their hands and feet at the laver, the priests were enabling themselves to draw ever closer to Hashem. And so it is with all of the Temple vessels: their sole intention is to facilitate the direct relationship between G-d and the priests. The holy Mei Hashiloach described the priestly washing of their hands and feet as being nothing less than the cleansing of their hearts and minds of any preconceived notion of G-d. They would begin the Divinde service each day literally by approaching Hashem anew. This is in direct contradistinction to the golden calf: Creating and dancing around a molten calf throws up a wall between man and G-d. True interaction is frozen. There is no renewal, no drawing closer to Hashem. Only slipping further apart.
"This is the statute (chok) of the Torah which the L-rd has commanded..." (Numbers 19:2)
This past Shabbat, in anticipation of the approaching Passover holiday, and in remembrance of Pesach as celebrated during the time of the Holy Temple, The Torah reading concerning the para aduma - the red heifer - was read in synagogues all around the world. The chok of the red heifer, by cleansing the children of Israel from impurity contracted by contact with death, enabled each and every Jew to make his Passover pilgrimage to the Holy Temple, fulfilling the Torah commandment. Like the copper laver, but on a more universal level, the red heifer's intended purpose was to draw people closer to the holy shechinah - presence - of G-d. The red heifer is understood by our sages as being the antidote, as it were, for the sin of the golden calf. Man, working solely on his own, drawing only from his own limitations, will always fall infinitely short of the mark, no matter how close! What hubris to assume that via our own calculations we could build a bridge to G-d. But G-d's commands, in their awesome unfathomability, draw us ever closer to Him, as is His desire.
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