In the portion Ki Tisa, we read about what's translated as the sin, or the fall, of the Golden Calf. We know every time we read something, we awaken that same Light. So then, why would we want to read about something that's negative? What benefit is there for us to read and reawaken the Light that would seem to be negative?
The Israelites had achieved Bila HaMavet LaNetzach, the complete removal of pain, suffering, and death, but here, they lose it. Therefore, what we want do is find the antidote and protection that we can receive not to fall in the same way. We know physically and practically what happened, but what was the seed and root cause for this fall? As we will come to see, it is a problem that we also face.
The Midrash tells us something very interesting. The Creator told Moses, “I will come to Sinai and reveal to the Israelites the Light of Immortality, the Light of Bila HaMavet LaNetzach, or freedom from the Angel of Death. They're going to experience that, they're going to experience my Light, and because of it, they're going to fall.” What does that mean? Usually, we would expect that if an individual experiences the Light of the Creator, that only elevates him. Here, the Creator tells Moses there's going to be this great revelation of Light, wisdom, and understanding. And because of the Israelites' experience of that Light, they are going to fall.
To understand that statement, I'd like to share one other time of falling that has to do with the same seed and root cause as the fall here: the death of the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Avihu. The kabbalists explain that the Zohar says the seed which actually caused their physical death is when it says they had a vision of God, and they ate and drank. This was the point, the kabbalists say, where they fell and eventually precipitated their souls leaving their bodies.
How can we understand this? The kabbalists explain the vision Nadab and Avihu had, as they were experiencing the Light of the Creator, can be compared to an individual who while eating sees something very interesting or beautiful. They still continue to eat, but they're really enjoying the view. The Midrash says this is how Nadab and Avihu fell, because of their vision as they were experiencing the Light of the Creator. Their vision was that of an individual who is enjoying his food and enjoying the view, as well.
But what's the understanding that really underlines these falls? The kabbalists explain that when an individual takes his or her blessings casually, he begins to lose his connection to them. We can use the example of the moment of birth for parents; when you first see that new person, it is an unbelievable experience. The amount of appreciation, the amount of joy that you have in that moment is maybe incomparable to anything else. And then that same individual, that baby, that child, continues living with you for many, many years afterwards. Can you ever say that your appreciation for that being is ever as great as the moment it was born? Never. Sometimes you don't appreciate at all. Sometimes you appreciate a little bit. But we never come back to appreciate it like in the first moment, and that's a problem.
And this is true of every blessing that we have. For example, when you speak to people who have found success in business, their excitement in the moment for the first large amount of money they made is huge. And then, they continue to be successful, and of course, they're appreciative and they enjoy it, but it's almost never as comparable to that first time. And that's a problem. Because taking our gifts casually separates us from them.
Therefore, what does it mean when it says that Nadab and Avihu were experiencing the Light of the Creator as a man sits there and eats? They experienced the Light of the Creator, and they were appreciative for it, but casually, as a man in the middle of a meal enjoying a beautiful view. The problem with this is that when we begin to take our blessings casually, we begin to lose them.
So, now we can go back to the fall of the Golden Calf, and what the Creator told Moses, that the Israelites are going to experience the Creator’s Light, and because of that, are going to fall. But the opposite is usually true when a person experiences Light; when people experience spiritual elevation, they grow, they don't fall. But that is only true if we maintain a true appreciation for it.
If we begin taking our experience of the Light casually, eventually we lose it completely. And therefore, the kabbalists teach that at the root of the fall of the Golden Calf was the fact that the Israelites began taking this experience, and their connection to Light of the Creator, casually. And when we begin to take our blessings casually, we begin to lose connection to them. Sometimes we lose them physically, or sometimes we maintain a connection to them physically but lose the Light, and therefore, the fulfillment that comes to us from them. As such, if we want to receive the antidote to the fall of the Golden Calf, we have to awaken ourselves to stop being casual with our blessings.
I doubt any of us has a true appreciation for the blessings that we have, whether it's family, children, work, and spiritual Light or wisdom. The chances that we are in the same place of appreciation now that we were in the first moments of those blessings is almost impossible. But now we understand that's a danger, because when we begin to take our blessings casually, we begin to lose them - whether we lose them physically, or lose their essence. Therefore, an awakening we want to receive on Shabbat Ki Tisa is to really make sure to look at the blessings that we have in our lives and make it a point to stop once a week and ask ourselves when the last time was where we simply had to stop because we were overwhelmed by a blessing that we had for five years, not just something new.
On Shabbat Ki Tisa, one of the gifts and assistance we want to receive is both this understanding and the ability to actually fight against it. To make sure we at least stop once a week, whether it's wisdom we heard, our family, our children, our work… wherever it is we truly have a great blessing that we now take casually, stop. Take five minutes, ten minutes, and appreciate it because the danger is if we are not constantly pushing against casual appreciation of our blessings, we lose them. And that's what brought the fall of the Golden Calf. That's why the Israelites lost all of the Light of Immortality they received at Sinai.