Much of this Torah portion deals with the sin of the Golden Calf. One lesson learned from this is that idol worship is the root of all sins, and no one is completely immune from it. Some people fail in more overt ways, others more subtly. The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that one version of modern idolatry is a person who is indeed involved in a Jewish lifestyle, but nevertheless perceives total involvement as something strange and alien (reminiscent of the Torah term for idol worship: "strange service"). Worse, because a person allows some separation between himself and Judaism, such a perspective could cause a person to eventually descend to actual idolatry, G‑d forbid. Therefore, each person must constantly evaluate if his or her service is appropriate and complete, so that one should not suddenly arrive at a level of' "strange service". Furthermore, if an "idolatrous" attitude is discovered, in oneself or in others, it must be actively combated. What is spiritual ammunition? The opening verse: "Raise the head". This means to be more involved in studying Torah, especially the inner dimensions. The same is true for all Jews, even if they have not begun their path in Judaism yet. This is how a Jew eradicates strange service both outside and in.

To Jews, sin is unattractive and inaccessible….

Another practical lesson: Even amidst the tragic discovery of the Jews' idolatrous plunge just 40 days after the giving of the Torah, Moses did not fall apart. Moses did his utmost to plead on the Jews' behalf, even offering his life for their sake. Indeed, Moses succeeded in saving them. Similarly, leaders in every generation found merit in our people no matter how far we strayed. This is how we must act, as well. When we go out of our way to see someone with a positive eye, we actually help transform that person's negative qualities and behavior into something positive. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, the most famous defender of the Jews, interpreted the seemingly negative verse "a nation heavy with sin", as "a nation for who sin is heavy", meaning that to Jews, sin is unattractive and inaccessible.

Divine kindness comes with no strings attached….

We must train ourselves to see others in a positive light, excusing their failings and committing ourselves to helping them. This should lead to the realization and admission that we, too, are lost, and must also have to "raise up our heads", and get back on the proper track. All of this will hasten the Redemption, when even the righteous will do teshuva. The first tablets (as they were before they were broken) are compared to the righteous and will become connected to the second tablets (which represent the concept of teshuva). This joining will be reflected in the wondrous new explanations of the Torah the Mashiach will teach, as it says, "A new Torah will go forth from me." (Isaiah 51:4)

Regarding the verse "I will have grace on those I wish to grace, and mercy on those to whom I wish to be merciful" (Ex. 33:19), the Shelah explains that while the purpose of every challenge is to raise us to higher spiritual levels, divine kindness comes with no strings attached, as G‑d says, "I will have grace on those I wish to grace."

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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