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Sin of Greatness?

01/03/13 09:12:44


R Pesach Siegel

Sin of Greatness?

Parshas Ki Sisa 5773

The Bnei Yisroel committed the seemingly unforgivable. At the very moment that Moshe Rabeinu was up in the heavens bringing the Luchos HaBris into this world, they worshipped a calf fashioned from gold.

Upon being made aware of their act, Moshe Rabeinu descended the mountain in fury. He destroyed the very Luchos he went up to bring. He took the Eigel HaZahav, burnt it, ground it into powder, added the powder to water and gave of the mixture to the Bnei Yisroel to drink. The guilty ones died the death of an Isha Sotah. Their innards were rent asunder as the water entered their stomachs.[1]

And Moshe turned to Aharon and said, “Mah asah lecha ha’am hazeh ki hayvaysa alav chata’ah gedolah.” – What did this nation do to you that caused you to bring upon it this great sin?

Aharon HaKohen responded, “Master, don’t be angry. The nation said to me, make for us a godly form that will go in front of us. Moshe, the man who brought us up from Mitzrayim, we don’t know what happened to him. I threw gold into the fire. This eigel emerged.”[2]

The wicked ones who sinned in front of witnesses, despite being warned, were put to death by the sword of the Bnei Levi.

On the morrow, Moshe Rabeinu addressed the survivors.  He said to the nation, “Atem chatasem chata’ah gedolah.” – You sinned a great sin. And now, I will go up to Hashem.  Perhaps I can atone for your sin.

Moshe Rabinu returned to his position before Hashem. He beseeched Hashem, “Ana chata ha’am hazeh chata’ah gedolah.” - This nation has sinned a great sin. And they made for them selves a deity of gold.[3]


How is Aharon HaKohen responding to Moshe’s anger by telling him, “I threw the gold into the fire. This eigel emerged”?

Why is the sin of the golden calf referred to repeatedly as chata’ah gedolah - the great sin?

It is certainly understandable that Moshe would refer to it thus when questioning Aharon. He would want to impress upon Aharon the gravity of the sin and his part in it.

It is equally understandable that he would address the Bnei Yisroel in this manner. He would want them to comprehend the gravity of their sin so that they could better repent.

Why would Moshe describe the sin of the Bnei Yisroel in such terms when asking forgiveness from Hashem?

Wouldn’t it be wiser, when asking forgiveness, to express the sin “as is” without any additions of how great the sin was?[4]


The sin of the eigel hazahav is unparalleled. It is a sin that could only have existed in the time of the Bnei Yisroel’s sojourn throughout the desert. It is a sin that could only have occurred at the foot of Har Snai.

At the time of the giving of the Torah, the Bnei Yisroel were brought to the level that they saw what is usually hidden. They saw the connection between heaven and earth in all its clarity. They comprehended how the dead inanimate earth could be brought to life by the connection to the spiritual realms.[5]

That particular period was one when the Bnei Yisroel were suspended between heaven and earth. Although physically they were on earth, but their subsistence was from the heavens.

They were ensconced in a desert. The desert lands of earth are devoid of physicality. There exists practically nothing of this world.

The food they ingested came from elsewhere, from beyond. The water they drank had a miraculous source. Their clothing was invested with miraculous qualities as it grew along with them, keeping pace with their growth.[6]

Moshe Rabeinu was the bridge between heaven and earth. He was born among them. He walked among the angels. It was their connection with Moshe Rabeinu that enabled them to exist on the level of celestial beings. The Bnei Yisroel had a clear understanding of this particular connection.

One can live a natural life without a direct connection to one such as Moshe Rabeinu. It is certainly possible.

To live as the Bnei Yisroel in the desert lived, they must have a way of lifting themselves up to the miraculous. Moshe Rabeinu is that way.

Moshe Rabeinu is gone.

A human substitute is not to be found.

But they knew there was another way, a different way. Moshe Rabeinu’s body was the most precious among human bodies. Upon birth, the abode he was born into was lit up with the brilliance of his human form.[7] His soul was the root of all souls. It contained the 600,000 facets of souls of the Jews who left Egypt.[8] It was the soul of Adam HaRishon.[9]

They would take precious gold. They would combine it to the spiritual life force that would be a presence in this world and be the most fitting one to sustain and guide them in their present elevated state. How they accomplished this is unfathomable to our feeble minds. We are not on the level to comprehend what it is that they did. But we do know that once they made this link between the physical and the spiritual, a golden calf emerged, as though on its own. It was animated and it spoke.[10]

They replicated the unique “one of a kind” bond between the spiritual and the physical that will enable them to continue their other-worldly existence on this world. This calf together with the spiritual force within it will be the precise substitute for Moshe Rabeinu.


We can now understand Aharon’s response to Moshe Rabeinu.” My master, don’t be angry. The nation did not know what became of you. They placed gold into the fire and this calf emerged.”  The sin, was initiated with the intention of reconnecting to the heavens following your disappearance. The Bnei Yisroel did not form a graven image. It was created as a result of their kavanah, their  intent to be led by a godly creation.[11]

My rebbe, Rav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, explained that it is for this reason that Moshe Rabeinu repeatedly refers to the sin as “the great sin.”

It does not mean “great” in the negative sense. It means a sin of “greatness.” Only a nation that has attained greatness could possibly sin in such a manner. The sin of the eigel hazahav would elude the common sinner. The common sinner would have no comprehension of such a sin. He would have no desire for such a sin.

Moshe was questioning Aharon for the understanding behind how the Bnei Yisroel came to commit such a sin of greatness. And so, Aharon answered him.

Prior to ascending the mountain to beg for forgiveness, Moshe Rabeinu addressed the Bnei Yisroel. He wanted them to put their sin in the proper perspective. He wanted them to understand that their sin is not a common one. It was due to their greatness.

And that is why, when he pleaded with the Creator for the lives of his beloved children, he placed emphasis on the crime being due to the greatness of the Jewish people.

May the sense of our own greatness serve to spur us onward and upward to greater heights.

[1] Rashi, Ki Sisa, perek 32, posuk 20

[2] Ki Sisa, perek 32, posuk 22 - 24

[3] Ki Sisa, perek 32, posuk 30 - 31

[4] Kli Yakar, perek 32, posuk 31

[5] Ramban, perek 32, posuk 1

[6] Rashi, Parshas Eikev, perek 8, posuk 4

[7] Rashi, Parshas Shmos, perek 2, posuk 2

[8] Medrash Shir HaShirim, parsha 1, piska 65

[9] Sefer Sh’lah, Meseches Shavuos, Perek Torah Ohr, 92

[10] Rashi, perek 32, posuk 5, Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer, perek 44

[11] Ramban, perek 32, posuk 1 - 4

Mon, September 21 2020 3 Tishrei 5781