It’s a double bovine week, with the perplexing sin of the Golden Calf in the regular Sedra and then the special Leighning of the Red Heifer in preparation for Pesach. There is no logical connection between these two Torah readings, and it is just how the calendar falls this year. However, as with everything in our lives, especially the fundamentals such as the Torah readings, nothing happens by chance.
The sin of the Golden Calf came about when the Israelites, under the instigation of the Erev Rav (the mixed multitude who joined them as they were leaving Egypt) and with the help of some trickery by the Angel of Death, were convinced that Moshe had died on Mount Sinai and that they were now leaderless. More frightening than that, there was now no-one who could speak for them to Hashem, they had lost their all-important intermediary between mankind and the Almighty.
The Golden Calf was their (entirely mistaken and egregious) way of creating that new intermediary. They wanted something tangible that they could associate and identify with. Having an entirely spiritual G-d was something new to them, especially after their historical association with the pagan Canaanites and their recent Egyptian overlords.
This was obviously the antithesis of the revelation at Mount Sinai and was a sin of enormous magnitude, but in a certain manner it was predictable. The Israelites had been thrown headfirst into a crash-course in monotheism and spirituality. It was only a 7 week journey from Egypt to Sinai, and now less than 6 weeks after Sinai, the one man who had led them out of the multi-deity and physical atmosphere of Egypt was gone. They were lead to believe that he was dead. Left bewildered they decided to throw it all away.
Compare that, if you will, with the mystical commandment of the Red Heifer. A person becomes contaminated through contact with a dead body, nothing has physically changed but they are now no longer allowed to go to the Temple.
* Ironically, the Tabernacle and then the Temple were only built after the sin of the Golden Calf when G-d saw that we needed a physical place where we could identify with him!
In order to rectify the situation and become pure, one needed to be sprinkled with the ashes of a Red Heifer. This is defined by the Torah as a Chok – a statue that has no understanding. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared that he was baffled by it; for how can the ashes of a dead animal purify someone who was only impure by being in contact with a dead body in the first place?
Yet that is precisely what the Torah commands. Plus it had to be performed by a Kohen, a member of the Levite Tribe; the only Tribe not to have been involved with the Sin of the Golden Calf.
It is read specifically this week as we are now starting in earnest our preparations for Pesach; when besides for every Jew being obligated to go to the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem we also have to internalise the message of Freedom. Freedom from the Mitzrayim – the constraints of the Egypt (Min Hametzar Karasi Kah – from the constraints I call to you Hashem – Tehillim 118) and enter into the wide expanse and true freedom of spirituality.
Thus we bring together both these Torah readings; the mistake of the Golden Calf when we erroneously thought we needed the physicality of an intermediary, and the procedure of the Red Heifer when we are reminded that true freedom means attaching ourselves to (and in a certain manner, giving ourselves over to) the spirituality of the Almighty. That doesn’t mean blind faith, for even King Solomon questioned it, but it does mean that we still need to continue even when we may not understand and not give in to the pessimistic and narcissistic machinations of the Erev Rav and those who would wish to deter us.