April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Parshat Ki Tisa: Get Your Hopes Up

Going for the gold on this one was not in their best interest. The Sin of the Golden Calf was one of the most detrimental episodes in the history of our nation. Let’s take a step back and put things into context: Not so long ago, the Jewish people experienced the most of extraordinary miracles, firsthand. Miracles after miracles of unproportionate measures, seeing the hand of God at work, nature being manipulated, overturned, and played with right in front of their eyes, and of course, the splitting of the sea! But we’re not done yet. Har Sinai. God speaking to them directly, they heard His “voice”! They saw sights that can’t be fairly or accurately expressed. And then, to ditch it all and serve….an animal? I mean, OK, good chances it was nice and shiny, but after all this you really gotta wonder, why would they do such a thing? How did it happen? Well, we can easily blame it on the yetzer hara, but since when does the yetzer hara have such a power to bring people down this suddenly to such a low level? Moreover, generally speaking, the yetzer hara works his tricks in gradual steps, slowly getting a person to fall to super-low levels, while in this incident it seems like he got the people to go a hundred to zero, real quick…

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explains that Bnei Yisrael’s rapid decline resulted from a single factor: depression. The Sages tell that the satan, in an effort to cause Bnei Yisrael to sin, made the world dark and dreary. He then showed Bnei Yisrael a misleading image of Moshe’s coffin so they would think he had died atop Mount Sinai. This image, coupled with the grim darkness that hovered over them, caused a strong sense of confusion and desperation among Bnei Yisrael. By bringing upon them this mood of despair, they fell to such a low level so quickly—a feat that would normally take the satan decades to achieve.

Let’s take it one big step further. I saw in the Midrash that it doesn’t just end here. The Midrash Tanchuma (Ki Tisa 20) informs that it wasn’t just the Sin of the Golden Calf that they were guilty of, but they also committed gilui arayot (sexual crimes) and shefichat damim (bloodshed). This is wild. If we follow Rav Chaim’s explanation that depression was the cause of their rapid decline, it would seem that this not only resulted in idol worship, but seemingly also of the other two cardinal sins. What we see from here is the dramatic extent depression can cause in a person, even of someone of tremendous spiritual prestige who firsthand experienced miracles beyond belief, and even God Himself.

The essence of depression is typically and closely experienced in feelings of hopelessness. So let’s think: What drives people to get up in the morning and start their day? Why should they? So many people are filled with troubles and misery. Why don’t they just call it in and quit? Indeed, unfortunately many do, but there are many more people who fight through, get up, and do what they gotta do even though they don’t want to. Why? Because naturally the human condition is hopeful. We are always hoping for better things. Hope drives us to go out and pursue success—whatever form or shape that may take place in. But when the hope is lost, everything else a person carries with him or her, all their care and concern—be it in their practical or religious life—is dropped. There is nothing to look forward to, so why do anything?

Some people who experience depression are embarrassed of their condition, and on top of feeling hopeless they also feel worthless, and sometimes that can make one reluctant to seek help, which can result in the condition worsening and other unfortunate circumstances. I had a thought, though: the Jews by the Golden Calf were great people, people of exalted stature. They saw and experienced incredible miracles, as stated. And even they, even they became depressed. One should realize this condition is completely normal to experience: you’re still a great person, but just struggling with a difficult challenge. When a person realizes that he or she is completely cool and normal despite feeling a certain way, perhaps this can encourage a person to begin seeking ways to be relieved of their depression and hopefully begin to feel hopeful once again.

Many people during their journey toward kirvat Hashem, coming close to Hashem, experience times of deep disconnect from Hashem, as if Hashem is rejecting them and is not interested in them or their efforts. Like the Jews in those times, they sense a heavy darkness and feel caught in confusion and despair. In those times it’s vital to seek guidance from those who can help, whether it may be close rebbeim, friends, family and professionals. And although it may not seem like it, try to keep in mind that Hashem is really right with you, just like He truly was with our forefathers at Har Sinai.

By Binyamin Benji


Binyamin Benji currently learns in Rabbi Shachter’s kollel at Yeshivas Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan and is a semicha candidate there as well. He holds an MSW from Wurzweiler School of Social Work and is the author of the weekly Torah portion in the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ newsletter. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles