Parshas Ki Tisa – The Golden Calf

By Shalom Olensky


This week in the Torah:

Moses had accepted some Egyptian converts to Judaism on the way out of Egypt. (They are also known as the “Mixed Multitude.”) When Moses tarries on Mt. Sinai after the Revelation, these Jews lead many of their newfound brethren – Children of Israel – to worship a calf of gold – idolatry. All Children of Israel that worship the idol are punished by death. Upon analysis of Rashi’s commentary (on the verse Exodus 33:1) it seems that of the idolatrous Mixed Multitude only those that were warned and witnessed as serving the idol were killed. Those who worshipped the idol unwitnessed remained alive by simply repenting.


Why did the aforementioned instigators of public idolatry remain alive upon repentance, while the Children of Israel that committed idolatry, died even once they had repented?


Since these converts were accepted into the fold by Moses, and it is an assumed rule that all of Moses’ handiwork is eternal, hence they were they were not killed once they repented.

A deeper explanation:

The sin was decreed from heaven so that the Jews – Mixed Multitude included – could achieve a level higher than that of the always righteous; namely, the loftier value of Repentance (Teshuvah).

A penitent is greater than one who has never sinned because:

  1. Repentance elevates the holy sparks hidden in prohibited matters, unreachable by the always righteous.
  2. Repentance does away with evil, not by shunning it, but by elevating it.
  3. Repentance reveals a higher awareness of the Unity of G-d. To explain:

The Unity of G-d is absolute; there is nothing in all of existence but for Him alone. G-d is everything and everything is G-d; complete Unity.

However there are two levels of the awareness of this Unity:

  1. From the perspective of worldly existence; feeling that whatever exists must be G-dly and therefore, evil must not really be an existence at all. This is expressed by shunning evil, fulfilled by the always righteous.
  2. From the perspective of G-dliness, where, to begin with, there is only G-dliness. From such a perspective, evil is seen as merely a part of the G-dly plan to elevate (the Divine spark within and animating) the evil into holiness. This is fulfilled and felt by penitents; they leave themselves and the world behind and completely unite with G-dliness because of their greater yearning caused by the escape from the clutches of evil. Thereby, they elevate their past evils into a force of Holiness. (For the darkness (of sin) that they are escaping, propels them ever stronger to observe the ways of G-d.)

The second level is a truer expression of G-d’s Unity. As it pervades all, palpably.


It was the repentance and the elevation of, the lowest level within Jewry – the instigators of the sin – that brought to the Jews a greater and truer experience of G-d’s Unity. Therefore, some of the Mixed Multitude even remained alive, upon repenting, while all Children of Israel who worshipped the idol did not.


Give of yourself, not only to matters that are strictly holy. Rather, also draw close those Jews that have sinned; for when those Jews return they bring a greater experience of G-d’s Unity to the Jewish nation, and to the world.

(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 15, Ki Sisa)


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