Shabbat Greetings

A few days ago, I was working on something and had the television on for some background noise. It was the Seinfeld show and it happened to be the last episode. In case you may not remember, the show ended with Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George being found guilty and sent to jail for ignoring a victim of crime instead of being good Samaritans and doing something to stop the offense. I stopped what I was doing and realized that this message was present in last Sunday’s “Shine a Light on Antisemitism” program, when one of the audience members stated clearly that the greatest defeat against hatred is when we remain silent. Silence is our greatest danger when confronted with wrong-doing.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) , we read the story of the shameful sin of the Golden Calf. When Moses descends Mount Sinai, he finds a celebration worshiping a Golden Calf. Moses calls out to the loyalists, and they join him in rooting out the evildoers. The wicked are punished – 3,000 people die. The literal reading of this text is horrific!

Why does Jewish history place such onus on the Sin of the Golden Calf? Is it really the most heinous sin of Jewish history? If there was a total population of 603,550 men – we can assume there was an equal number of women. The total population was therefore 1.2 million Israelites. Three thousand guilty out of 1.2 million people?! That means that 99.75 were casual bystanders and were not actively involved in the Golden Calf! Over 99% of the people didn’t do anything! Therein lies the problem.

The Torah message is simple. Our tradition maintains that a bystander who could have helped but did not, is not innocent. The silent majority at Mount Sinai could have easily overwhelmed the agitators and stopped the Golden Calf from ever materializing. Because they stood by without protesting, they are defined as complacent sinners. Watching silently while all that is holy is desecrated and profaned is nothing less than sacrilege.

If good, decent, law-abiding people stand aside and say “I don’t want to get involved- it’s not my job” then dark forces will prevail in our world. The sin of the Golden Calf reminds us of the often-quoted adage “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”

As we will celebrate in three weeks, the holiday of Purim commemorates that two people, Mordecai and Esther, refused to be silent in the face of evil and proactively confronted bigotry and hatred. They saved our People and defended our heritage. Let us therefore commit to ever be vigilant and actively defend that which is morally correct and ethically proper, for then our deeds will bring light and healing to our world.