Today's Golden Calf
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
In this week's Torah portion we read the story of the Golden Calf - how just a few days after receiving the Torah the people made for themselves a molten image which they began to worship. I understand that idol worship was a great sin at the time but what relevance does such a story have today when most of us have better things to do with our time than to bow down to sticks and stones?
At the time when Abraham entered the world and for centuries thereafter, idol worship was rampant. It was not just the simple folk who would spend their time prostrating themselves before idols, it was the kings and leaders of the people who had made idol-worship a way of life and had taught it to the masses. Today, it is very difficult for us to understand what would drive an intelligent person to worship a piece of wood or pottery or to proclaim a golden calf as god. But unfortunately in today's society idol-worship of a different kind, but idol worship nonetheless, is still widespread. How so?
The core problem with idol worship and the reason that G-d so abhors it is because when a person bows down to an idol he is in essence stating that he gives higher value to that idol than to G-d. It follows therefore that holding any value higher than G-d's values is a subtle form of idol worship. The Torah is the book where G-d conveys His values to the world. The prophet Micha sums it up best when he says "What is good and what does G-d require of you? Do justice, love goodness and walk modestly with your G-d". G-d wants us to be moral people - do justice and love goodness; and He wants us to keep his mitzvoth - walk modestly with your G-d. These are the things that G-d values.
As with ancient idol worship it is the leaders who set the trends and it is their duty to determine whether their societies will be full of "idol worshippers" or whether they will be made up of people "who do justice and love goodness" and value those things which G-d sees as being supreme.