Gold Rush

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Ki-Sisa Parshas Parah
Gold Rush

No matter how early Frank got up in the morning, he could never seem to avoid the rush of people and traffic. Manhattan really is the city that never sleeps. As the financial capital of the world, it was always busy.

Cars, cabs, buses, and subway trains were always racing all around town. On every corner, dozens of pedestrians would wait impatiently to cross the street at the first indication that there was an opening, regardless of whether there was going to be a green light or not.

The fast food industry was booming. It's the only way to satiate hunger quickly. Otherwise, people just had no time for it.

If you approached a person that you recognized coming from the other direction, you would maintain your brisk walk, smile and traditionally say, "How ya' doin'?", hoping that the response was the accepted, "Great. You? Nice day." Half of this deep and meaningful conversation would take place after the two had already passed each other. After all, who has time to listen to somebody else's problems?

Frank would wonder about this fast-paced life-style. Again and again he would tell himself that this was normal. Frank would reflect on the words of the Constitution of the United States of America which speaks about "the pursuit of happiness." To Frank, and to many others, this meant the pursuit of money.

But, Frank questioned why he didn't feel happy. He already made a killing in the stock market. Why wasn't he enjoying himself? No matter how much he had, he felt like he "needed" more. He could never quench his thirst for money and the things it could buy.

Frank was not alone. Millions of others felt the same way. They just distracted themselves with work, the gym, and with their cell phones so that they wouldn't have to think about it.

At times, people felt that they were like little mice running on the wheel, going around and around, never really getting anywhere. This is where the expression of "the rat race" came from.

This depressing state of existence lies at the heart of the lesson which can be gleaned from Parshas Para and from Parshas Ki Sisa.

The Para Aduma atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf (Rebbi Moshe Hadarshan, cited in Rashi, Nu. 19:22). However, at the root of this sin was the sin of the pursuit of money for its own sake (Kli Yakar, Ex. 30:13). Actually, Moshe blamed God for instigating the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe claimed that since God showered the Jewish people with so much gold at the time of the Exodus, it whet their appetites for more money. Moshe argued that the Jewish people's newfound wealth caused them to rebel against God with the Golden Calf, because the Golden Calf was really about the continuous quest for more money (Berachos, chap. 5, "Ein Omdin", pg. 32a, D'Bei Rebbi Yanai, Rebbi Chiya bar Aba quoting Rebbi Yochanan, Rav Nachman, Rabbanan, Rebbi Shmuel bar Nachmeini citing Rav; Dt. 8:14; 31:20; 32:15; Hos. 2:10).

The Eigel Hazahav (Golden Calf) can actually be translated as the "idol of gold." This refers to a worship of money by constantly trying to amass huge amounts of it for its own sake (Shvilei Pinchas).

The reason why the Jews specifically requested an eigel (calf) was because during the giving of the Torah, the heavens opened and they saw the Throne of Glory. They saw the four images that were engraved on the four sides of the Throne: a lion, an eagle, an ox, and a baby face (Ez. 1:10; Chagiga, chap. 2, "Ein Dorshin", pg. 13b).

They noticed how the Throne was positioned from west to east. When facing east, the left side of the Throne is the northern side. The image of the ox was engraved on the northern side of the Throne (Ez. 1:10). This is important because it says that gold comes from the north (Job. 37:22). This indicates that gold comes from the power of the ox on the northern side of the Throne. This is further supported by the verse that says that many crops come through the power of the ox (Pro. 14:4).

This explains why the Talmud says that if a person wants to become wealthy, he should pray facing the north (Baba Basra, chap. 2, "Lo Yachpor", Rebbi Yitzchak). The reason for this is that the Table of Showbread was placed on the northern side of the Sanctuary. The Table of Showbread represented wealth and livelihood. Once again, affluence comes from the north where the ox was positioned.

Moreover, Yosef was the provider for all the people in the land (Gn. 42:6). It was Yosef who supported the civilized world during a crushing famine. Eventually, Moshe blessed Yosef by saying that he was the "First- born ox to whom majesty belonged" (Dt. 33:17). Once again, the ox is connected to financial success.

The Jewish people knew about all of this. This is why they specifically requested to have a calf made for them. They wanted a young ox in order to draw from its energy to make them even wealthier than they already were.

This unquenchable thirst for wealth began at the time of the Exodus after Hashem showered them with so much gold, silver, diamonds, and rubies.

When the Eirev Rav (mixed multitude of Egyptian converts) told the Jewish people, "This is your god that brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4), they meant to say that the Eigel was responsible for bringing them out of Egypt WEALTHY. Therefore, they said, "This is your god," meaning, this is your new god, gold. (Isn't it interesting that the word "god" appears in the word "gold"? The extra letter "L" stands for "love". In other words, they "loved" their new "god" of "gold").

The Jews no longer wanted Moshe, they wanted an Eigel. This is because they felt that Moshe had nothing to do with prosperity. Proof of this was when all the Jews were scurrying around Egypt to strip it of its wealth. Instead of assisting them in this hunt, Moshe was running around doing mitzvos such as gathering Yosef's bones to be buried in Eretz Yisrael (Sota, chap. 1, "Hamekaneh", pg. 13a; Pro. 10:8).

The Jewish people concluded that finances were not Moshe Rabbenu's department. Moshe's territory was Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, they sought out an eigel to increase their wealth.

This is why every generation gets punished a little bit for the sin of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32:34, Rashi). It is because every generation is guilty, to some decree, of the same sin which is making gold their god. Some of us are obsessed with money. Sometimes our first thoughts turn to money.

For example, we might think to ourselves, "Oh, you want to get married, how much money do you have?" We meet a professional and ask ourselves, "I wonder how much she makes." We are introduced to a new person and our thoughts are preoccupied with, "I wonder how much he's worth." When you think about it, isn't it disgusting to measure a person's worth by how much money he possesses?

In the United States of America, the words, "In God we trust" appears on the money. The question we should be asking ourselves is which "God" (god) do we place our trust in? Hashem or money. The outer letters of the word "money" spells "my". The remaining inside letters spell "one". This means that to some people their "one" and only god is money.

This is how the Machatzis Hashekel (the half shekel coin; Ex. 30:11-16) atoned for the Golden Calf (Tanchuma, Ex. 10). The "half" shekel coin reminds us that we will never obtain more than "half" of our desires. If we have a hundred, we want two hundred. If we have two hundred, we want four hundred (Koheles Rabba, 1:13; Rav Yudan).

With this in mind, we are urged to desist from our obsession of hording more and more money. Obviously, if a person wants a lot of money in order to give more charity, it is an incredible mitzvah. But, if the motivation to generate more wealth is for another car, another home, more vacations, and more "toys", then we should remember that we will never feel satisfied. Therefore, we should slow down, live in the present, occupy ourselves in meaningful activities, and enjoy the people in our lives.

The Para Aduma also atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf because it is very expensive (Avoda Zara, chap. 2, "Ein Ma'amidin", pg. 24a). It is expensive because just two black hairs disqualify the Para Aduma. Since it is rare to find a completely red cow without even two black hairs, the price goes up. There is a huge demand to be purified by its ashes. When you have a high demand and short supply, the price skyrockets.

When we are willing to spend so much money on a mitzvah, it shows that our values are aligned with the Torah. This, in and of itself, atones for the sin of the Golden Calf which was, and still is, about the selfish pursuit of money (Shvilei Pinchas).

The redness of the cow hints to us that it atones for the rush we have for gold which has a reddish color.

The absence of the two black hairs on the Para Aduma represent the absence of two crooked outlooks. One is "Kochi" (My strength made me my wealth), and "Otzem Yadi" (The might of my hand made me my wealth). These two expressions represent the two areas in which we sometimes place our trust: 1) in our mazal (zodiac sign above) and 2) in our efforts below, such as strategy and investments (Rabbenu Bachya, Dt. 8:17).

A person missing these two viewpoints, represented by the absence of these two hairs, is a kosher person who is willing to spend huge amounts of money to serve Hashem (Shvilei Pinchas).

When a person feels that he creates his own livelihood, it is likely for him to think, "Why should I spend MY hard-earned money on that mitzvah?" But, when a person realizes that it's not his good luck or his creativity which generated his wealth, rather it all comes from Hashem, he is willing to give that money back to Hashem when He asks for it.

In this way, the Para Aduma is greater than the Korban Pesach (See Shemos Rabba, 19:2). The Korban Pesach atones for idolatry by slaughtering a sheep that was worshipped by the Egyptians. This was extremely necessary back in the day when idolatry was prevalent.

However, how many of us today struggle with the temptation to worship animals as gods?" Not many. This makes the Korban Pesach almost obsolete.

However, we still struggle with the "god of gold." Therefore, the Para Aduma, with its being expensive and with its absence of two black hairs, truly speaks to us until this very day. The Para Aduma's message is relevant in every generation. In this way, it has an advantage over the Paschal Lamb (Shvilei Pinchas).

Practically speaking, let's try going to Shul this Shabbos to hear the reading of Parshas Para. If we cannot make it to synagogue, let's read Parshas Para at home. But, during the hearing or recitation of Parshas Para, let's pray to God inside by asking Him to help us from falling into the trap of the Eigel Hazahav by pursuing money for its own sake. Let us pray that Hashem helps us avoid the belief in "Kochi V'otzem Yadi."

So, may we all be blessed to avoid our modern-day idolatry of the Eigel Hazahav with the realization that our livelihoods are in God's hands, not in the hands of a mazel and not in our own hands. Therefore, let's just do what we NEED to do, not what we WANT to do with respect to the pursuit of money, because we'll only wind up with half of our desires anyway, and thus deserve to witness the building of the Beis Hamikdash and undergo the purification of the expensive Para Aduma, destroying the Yetzer Hara completely, enabling us to bring the Korban Pesach once again.