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Embarking on a journey of faith: 

Delving into the World of Divine Law: Unveiling a Captivating Passage

The journey into the realm of Divine Law begins with an intriguing paradox: "Even philosophers... were unable to dispense with images..." This opening sentence sets the stage for a thought-provoking exploration—how could such wise individuals succumb to idolatry? The passage delves into the motivations behind this seemingly illogical behavior.

Another stop leads us to a well-known story in Judaism—the Israelites' worship of the Golden Calf. The passage examines the driving forces behind this act and its complexities.

Finally, the passage concludes with a remark hinting at a central concept in Judaism—the importance of adhering to God's laws. It suggests that the passage might explore the consequences of disobeying these laws, using the Golden Calf incident as a case study.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What factors led the Israelites to worship the Golden Calf?
  2. Can the Israelites' actions be justified?
  3. How does the worship of the Golden Calf differ from the construction of synagogues?
  4. What is the significance of obeying God's laws in Judaism?
  5. Are God's laws still relevant in the modern world?

    Divine Law: The Bedrock of Judaism

    1. The Rabbi:
      [1] The Prevalence of Idolatry
      All nations were given to idolatry at that time. Even had they been philosophers, discoursing on the unity and government of God, they would have been unable to dispense with images and would have taught the masses that a divine influence hovered over this image. which was distinguished by some miraculous feature. Some of them ascribed this to God, even as we to-day treat some particular spots with reverence, going so far as to believe ourselves blessed by their dust and stones Others ascribed it to the spiritual influence of some star or constellation, or of a talisman, or to other things of that kind. The people did not pay so much attention to a single law as to a tangible image in which they believed.
      [2] The Israelites' Desire for a Visible Symbol
      The Israelites had been promised that something visible would descend on them from God which they could follow, as they followed the pillars of cloud and fire when they departed from Egypt. This they pointed out, and turned to it, praising it, and worshipping God in its presence. Thus they also turned towards the cloud which hovered over Moses while God spake with him; they remained standing and adoring God opposite to it.
      [3] The Israelites' Descent into Idolatry
      Now when the people had heard the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, and Moses had ascended the mount to receive the inscribed tables which he was to bring down to them, and then make an ark which was to be the point towards which they should direct their gaze during their devotions,[2] they waited for his return clad in the same apparel in which they had witnessed the drama on Sinai, without removing their jewels or changing their clothes, remaining just as he left them, expecting every moment to see him return. He, however, tarried forty days, although he had not provided himself with food, having only left them with the intention of returning the same day. An evil spirit overpowered a portion of the people, and they began to divide into parties and factions. Many views and opinions were expressed, till at last some decided to do like the other nations, and seek an object in which they could have faith, without, however, prejudicing the supremacy of Him who had brought them out of Egypt. On the contrary, this was to be something to which they could point when relating the wonders of God, as the Philistines did with the ark when they said that God dwelt within it.
      [4] Comparing the Golden Calf to Other Forms of Worship
      We do the same with the sky and every other object concerning which we know that it is set in motion by the divine will exclusively, and not by any accident or desire of man or nature.
      [5] The Sin and its Aftermath
      Their sin I consisted in the manufacture of an image of a forbidden thing, and in attributing divine power to a creation of their own, something chosen by themselves without the guidance of God. Some excuse may be found for them in the dissension which had broken out among them, and in the fact that out of six hundred thousand souls the number of those who worshipped the calf was below three thousand. For those of higher station who assisted in making it an excuse might be found in the fact that they wished to clearly separate the disobedient from the pious, to slay those who would worship the calf. On the other hand, they sinned in causing what was only a sin of intention to become a sin in deed.
      [6] The Severity of the Sin
      This sin was not on a par with an entire lapse from all obedience to Him who had led them out of Egypt, as only one of His commands was violated by them. God had forbidden images, and despite this they made one. They should have waited and not have assumed power, have arranged a place of worship, an altar, and sacrifices. This had been done by the advice of the astrologers and magicians among them, who were of opinion that their actions based on their ideas would be more correct than the true ones. They resembled the fool of whom we spoke, who entered the surgery of a physician and dealt out death instead of healing to those who came there. At the same time the people did not intend to give up their allegiance to God. On the contrary, they were, in theory, more zealous in their devotion. They therefore approached Aaron, and he, desiring to make their plan public, assisted them in their undertaking. For this reason he is to be blamed for changing their theoretical disobedience into a reality. The whole affair is repulsive to us, because in this age most nations have abandoned the worship of images. It appeared less objectionable at that time, because all nations were then idolators.
      [7] Comparison to Building Synagogues
      Had their sin consisted in constructing a house of worship of their own, and making a place of prayer, offering and veneration, the matter would not have been so grave, because nowadays we also build our houses of worship, hold them in great respect, and seek blessing through their means. We even say that God dwells in them, and that angels surround them. If this were not essential for the gathering of our community, it would be as unknown as it was at the time of the kings, when the people were forbidden to erect places of worship, called heights. The pious kings destroyed them, lest they be venerated beside the house chosen by God in which He was to be worshipped according to His ordinances. There was nothing strange in the form of the cherubim made by His command.
      [8] Punishment and Forgiveness
      Despite these things, those who worshipped the calf were punished on the same day, and three thousand out of six hundred thousand were slain. The Manna, however, did not cease falling for their maintenance, nor the cloud to give them shade, nor the pillar of fire to guide them. Prophecy continued spreading and increasing among them, and nothing that had been granted was taken from them, except the two tables, which Moses broke. But then he pleaded for their restoration; they were restored, and the sin was forgiven.
    1. Al Khazari: The theory I had formed, and the opinion of what I saw in my dream thou now confirmest, viz. that man can only merit divine influence by acting according to God's commands And even were it not so, most men strive to obtain it, even astrologers, magicians, fire and sun worshippers, dualists etc.

      Questions to sharpen understanding of the Text above:

      1. Conflict and Resolution: How does the Rabbi reconcile the Israelites' disobedience with their continued receipt of divine blessings (manna, cloud, etc.)?
      2. Degrees of Sin: The Rabbi suggests the sin of the Golden Calf wasn't a complete rejection of God. How does he differentiate the severity of this sin from a total lapse in faith?
      3. Leadership and Responsibility: The passage assigns blame to Aaron and the astrologers. How does the Rabbi distribute responsibility for the Israelites' actions?
      4. Evolution of Worship: The Rabbi compares the Golden Calf to building synagogues. What does this comparison reveal about changing practices of worship over time?

      Insights of this class from the Chavruta program group Zoom session: 

      Navigating the Moral Compass: Divine Law and the Modern Individual

      I recently found a thought-provoking passage that discusses the concept of Divine Law and its relevance in today's world. The passage raises the question of how even wise people could fall into idolatry. It then examines the story of the Golden Calf and the Israelites as a case study to emphasize the importance of following God's laws.

      One of the most intriguing aspects of the passage is its exploration of the relationship between obedience and Divine Law. It prompts us to consider whether these laws are relevant today and how they might influence our lives.

      The discussion questions included with the passage offer an excellent springboard for further exploration. Here are some that particularly resonated with me:

      • What factors led the Israelites to worship the Golden Calf?
      • Can their actions be justified in any way?
      • How does following God's laws differ from simply building places of worship?
      • Most importantly, are these concepts of Divine Law still relevant in the modern world?


        Unlocking UnderstandingA Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Texts

        1. Listen and Engage: The first step is actively listening to the Text during your initial read-through. Try to understand the main topics discussed in it.

        2. Comprehend the Text: After your initial read-through, try to understand the author's main ideas. Try to capture the spirit of the Text and its underlying purpose.

        3. Imagination and Connection: Use your understanding of the Text to relate it to familiar scenarios or phenomena you know about. How do the topics discussed in the Text compare to real-life situations?

        4. Delve Deeper into the Text: Once you've grasped the essential components of the Text, revisit it. Try comprehending finer details such as numerical data, examples, and analyses that help you understand the subject matter more deeply.

        5. Reread with Purpose: After delving deeper into the Text, reread it. This time, try to understand the point at which the Text was written without focusing solely on the details. Concentrate on the main ideas and central purpose of the Text.

        With dedication and perseverance, you can unlock the secrets of any text and gain invaluable insights that will enrich your understanding of the world around you. Active engagement is crucial for achieving success in your reading endeavors. Listening attentively, understanding deeply, and connecting the Text to your experiences is essential. Take the time to delve into the finer details, and don't be afraid to ask questions or seek help when needed.

        Embrace the power of knowledge and embark on a transformative learning adventure!

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        "The Rabbi: The faculty of speech is to transmit the idea of the speaker into the soul of the hearer. Such intention, however, can only be carried out to perfection by means of oral communication. This is better than writing. The proverb is: 'From the mouths of scholars, but not from the mouth of books.'" (Kuzari)

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