Parshas Ki Tisa: Parshas Parah: Taking the Bull by the Horns

We have a bull living in our house.  Our Adventuring Akiva was born with the bull as his star sign (Taurus).  Although we do not believe the mazal (fate) of Jews is dictated by the stars, we do believe that certain personality traits and characteristics can be read in the stars based on when we are born.

The stars are “closer” in a way to shemayim (heaven), which may be why we look up at them and call them “the heavens.”  But as a result, when our mazal comes down to this world, we can read it first in the stars.  As Jews we definitely believe in astrology, just not as it’s practiced today by all the charlatan out there.  But also as Jews we are forbidden from having our fortunes told, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here lest I digress.  Yet, we definitely do know certain basics, such as that certain character traits tend to be associated with birth during certain Hebrew months.

So, we have a bull living in our midst.  And he really is a little bull.  Sometimes I think he exemplifies the “bull in a china shop” phrase because he has a knack for getting into and destroying everything just because he is so enthusiastic about exploring it (although maybe that’s all babies!).  Nevertheless, I often look down as him and think that as he crawls around, he even looks like a bull.  He is so solidly built!  He’s also got the persistence of a bull – no matter how many times I try to distract him or take him away from something he shouldn’t have, he will always continue to go after it, whether he has to climb over, under, around, or through something else to get to it!

But of course, bulls are also famous for something else: their anger.  In sports involving bulls, it is always their anger that is exploited.  In bullfights, red capes are flashed before him to make him angry. And there wouldn’t be much point to a rodeo if the bull wasn’t so angry about having a person sitting on him!

In the Torah, anger is equated to idol worship.  When we become angry, we are in essence coming to worship our own egos.  We become angry when things just don’t go the way we think they should.  I think that driver should let me in when I signal but instead he cuts me off – I get angry.I spend hours cleaning and then my kids run through with muddy shoes – I get angry.  I spend hours putting together an elaborate cake and then my oven goes bonkers and it burns up – I get angry.  It’s all about what I think should happen, but then doesn’t happen.  It’s all about me and my ego.

So it should come as no surprise that the Jews came to worship the Golden Calf.  In essence, they are worshipping themselves.  In fact, it is the “erev rav,” the “mixed multitude” who were the ones actually worshipping the Golden Calf.  You see, when the Jews came out of Egypt, they didn’t come alone. There were a lot of hangers-on who followed after them.  It is they whom the sages blame for the idol worship.  Yet, it isn’t that easy to simply dismiss them because the “mixed multitude” was mixed, after all – mixed with us!  We couldn’t just point and say, “Those guys over there are to blame” because they were mixed in with all the Jews.  The erev rav symbolizes something much deeper – it symbolizes that part of us known as the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, that is mixed up inside of us, and which cannot always be distinguished.  And what is the main vehicle of the yetzer hara? You guessed it – the ego!

No wonder G-d was so upset when He found us worshipping the Golden Calf.  G-d’s responses are always just, and always measure for measure.  So fitting that he would become angry when he sees the Golden Calf being worshipped just after He has revealed Himself and raised us all to the level of angels.  How quickly we rose and how quickly we fell.  We just could not withstand the lure of caving in to our own egos.

But if the Jews who stood at Sinai could not maintain control over their own egos for even 40 days and nights, despite being at the level of angels, how can we expect to do any better? The answer is, we can’t.  We are flawed, weak human beings, but we have got one thing angels haven’t got: the ability to better ourselves.  To totally conquer our egos, we must abnegate our selfish, limited wills to the ultimate and supreme Will of our Creator.  The antidote to the Golden Calf is in our hands: the Torah.  It is up to us to take the steps, one at a time, to follow it more closely.  To decide that today we will not eat that forbidden food, we will not drive this Shabbat, and we will offer to help our enemy who is struggling to carry a heavy load.  Because all of these things require us to push our own egos down and, instead, to focus on becoming closer to the Divine.

So this week, think of at least one thing you can do to turn your ego down a notch and your closeness to G-d up.  Will it be a change in what you eat? What you wear? What you say?  We all have the power to stop the erev rav within us from worshipping the Golden Calf, if only we will try.

Shabbat shalom!


One Response to “Parshas Ki Tisa: Parshas Parah: Taking the Bull by the Horns”

  1. Pintele Yid says:

    Good to read interesting Dvar Torah from you again.
    The words “we have got one thing angels haven’t got: the ability to better ourselves” remind me of the Gemara of Shabbat 88b regarding the angels wanting the Torah but being unable to fulfil the commandments.
    Also Hagiga 14a refers to the erev rav as “insolents” or souls from the world of chaos which occur in each generation.
    Sometimes we cave in not only to our egos but to group pressure….and we slow our soul’s progress by doing so.
    Becoming a better soul requires constant thought before action and mindfulness as well as resisting bad influences of the mixed multitude.
    As some say: “it’s a jungle out there!”


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