Adapted by Zefanyah Yosef Porter
1. "And it came it pass when he (Moshe) came close to the camp and he saw the eigel and the dancing, and the anger of Moshe flared."
The Targum Yonasan teaches us that at the time of the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jewish People were looking for a leader. They were in a terrible state of confusion. Due to a miscalculation, the Jewish People believed that Moshe Rabeinu had missed the appointed time for his return to the Jewish People from atop Har Sinai. In desperation, the Jewish people made the golden calf and proclaimed it a god, R"L. The Targum goes on to tell us something frightening: the Satan entered the golden calf, and in the Jewish People's acceptance of the Eigel as their divine leader, the Satan was infused into them. The Torah earlier told us (Shemos 32:5 -6) that a holiday was proclaimed in honor of the golden calf, and the people danced in celebration. However, this was no simple revelry. The Midrash Tanchuma (20) tells us that the rejoicing of the worshipers of the Golden Calf consisted of the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder! The Divrei Yoel (Terumah 191) connects these two ideas, explaining that the Jewish People sank so low, because they accepted upon themselves a satanic force for a leader. Through this, the Satan himself was infused into them, and hence, they sank to a terrible low, committing the most terrible sins in the world.
We see from the above explanation, the tremendous power of the Satan! A mere forty days earlier, Klal Yisroel had experienced Matan Torah, had heard the voice of Hashem, so to speak, and according to Chazal, had returned the world to the intensely spiritual level on which it had existed before the sin of Adam HaRishon. Roughly six weeks prior to Matan Torah, the Jews had experienced Krias Yam Suf. The perception of the Shechinah at this awesome event was beyond any other G"Dly encounter ever experienced by the Jewish People. Chazal tell us that at Krias Yam Suf, a maidservant saw a greater revelation of the Shechinah than those prophecies experienced by Yechezkel Hanavi. despite all this, the Satan managed to prevail over them, so that they were lowered to the point of committing three of the most terrible sins on the planet. The Rebbe makes it clear, that simply by accepting the Golden Calf (which became the vehicle of the Satan) as their divine leader, the Jewish people sank to an almost unimaginable depth. This is a powerful lesson to us. If we accept an evil leader, the damaging effects of this accceptance are not superficial. They reach to the very depths of our souls and destroy us in the blink of an eye, R"L.
This is a tremendous insight for us in today's times. If you want to know the essence of the people, look at the leader whom they have accepted. This poses a great challenge for us today, but we do not have to fear. Perhaps we can draw the following logical argument: if accepting a satanic leader, R"L, causes so much damage to our very essence, then how much good must be brought about through accepting a holy leader!
We are taught this very idea repeatedly in our parasha. In the first words of the parasha, Moshe is appointed to oversee the census of the Jewish People. Later (31: 1 - 6), the Torah tells us of the appointment of Betzalel and Ahaliav as the constructors of the Mishkan. The parasha continues, amplifying this concept to the ultimate degree possible. We are commanded to observe the Shabbos, the ultimate proclamation of the most Holy One as our true King. Going further still into the Parasha (33: 12 – 23), we find that after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabeinu pleads to Hashem to help
the Jewish People in the future to avoid sin by displaying his presence to them throughout their troubles in Galus. Hashem made a compromise, promising Moshe that although He could not make His presence clear to the Jewish People at all times, the Shechinah would, nevertheless, always be with Klal Yisroel, even when the times seemed dark.
Perhaps, this is a deeper look at the Divrei Yoel; the Rebbe is giving us a hint as to how to protect ourselves against the winds of heresy in our generation: accept Hashem as your Utimate King, and you will pull the very depths of your neshama from the lowest filth, to great levels of connection to Hashem! “Anochi Hashem Elokecha!”
2. The Mishnah in Meseches Megillah (25a) teaches us that the Torah portion of the golden calf "is read but is not translated." The Divrei Yoel brings a reason for this. Simply put, the miracles that seemed to emanate from the golden calf were miracles from the sitra achra, and satanic miracles are not to be publicized. This is particularly relevant in our times when, Chazal tell us, there will be tremendous tests in this area. Despite all the miracles that seem to be happening for the wicked, we must continue to cling to Hashem and His Holy Torah, never wavering from our true faith (Divrei Yoel Bereishis 101).
3. The Gemara in Meseches Megillah (12a) tells us an interesting story. The students asked R' Shimon Bar Yochai: For what reason did the Jews of that generation (in the time of Mordechai and Ester) become liable for destruction? R' Shimon replied to them: “You tell me.” They answered: “Because they derived pleasure from the feast of that wicked one (King Achashveirosh).” R' Shimon replied to them: “If so, then the decree of destruction should only have been issued against the Jews in Shushan.” The students replied: “So you tell us.” R' Shimon replied to them: “Because they bowed to an image (in the time of the wicked Nevuchadnetzar).”
The Divrei Yoel discusses this Gemara in his commentary on Parashas Shmini. In an extended, brilliant, and complicated pilpul, the Rebbe discusses numerous points in an in-depth analysis of this Gemara. The Rebbe works the two answers together, and in the course of this, draws out a very powerful lesson: The point of Achashveirosh's feast was to pull the Jewish people away from Hashem and the Torah, causing them to commit aveiros and bow to idols. This alienation from Hashem and the Torah was to be accomplished through impermissible food and drink. One possible explanation for the impermissibility of the food and drink is that according to some authorities (including the Divrei Yoel) they were not Kosher.[They were contaminated through their attendance at the feast of Achashveirosh, the idolater. (See the Shelah Hakadosh on Parashas Ki Sisa under the heading “V'Torah Ohr” for elaboration on this concept.)] The severity of the punishment for attending the feast, a decree of extermination, can now be understood. Generally, if a person transgresses through forbidden foods (e.g., neveilos, treifos), the punishment would not be death. In this case, however, an especially severe punishment was warranted. The main part of the punishment (the decree of extermination) was incurred because through the feast, the Jewish people befriended Achashveirosh, a man of idolatry. Since they "buddied-up" with a terribly wicked man, whose only goal, was to drive them away from Hashem, toward the avodah zara, they incurred a severe punishment.
But we still must understand R' Shimon's answer. The fact of the matter is that the generation that bowed to the image in the days of Nevuchadnetzar was a different generation than the one that participated in the feast of Achashveirosh, so why should the Purim generation have been punished for the sins of their fathers? The Divrei Yoel answers based upon a teaching of the Chasam Sofer. The Chasam Sofer states that a wise person looks to the past to see how to act in the future. The children must learn from the stumblings of their forefathers not to fall into the same trap. This understanding applies itself to the Gemara under discussion. The Jews in the time of Purim should have learned the lessons of history. They should have looked back to the times of Nevuchadnetzar and taken notice that their ancestors stumbled by way of idolatry. Prompted by this retrospect,the generation living in the trying times of Achasveirosh's reign should have exercised increased vigilance against all avodah zarah. (Divrei Yoel Shemini 223)