Ki Tisa contains the worst sin brought about by the collective Jewish people in the entire Torah, Cheit HaEigel (the sin of the golden calf). The nation, after just having left their tormentors in Egypt and stood at the base of Mt. Sinai and accepted the word of God, so quickly and forcefully veered directly away from the path that they had sworn to stay firmly upon. Moshe ascended Har Sinai and was to be gone for 40 days and nights, and as we know, due to an error in counting, the am was confused and afraid. They went to Aharon HaKohen, Moshe’s brother and confidant, and clamored for a new god “Because this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt–we do not know what happened to him.” Aharon was in a bind and actively tried to stall the people a few times. Yet, through all of his good intentions, the idol was created and brought down the entire nation.
When Aharon first heard the pleas of Bnai Yisrael, he instructed them to take out the gold earrings from the women and children and to bring them to him. Rashi explains that this was done to buy him time, as he knew that the women would not be keen on parting with their jewelry, and by the time they were convinced to do so, Moshe would have returned and this entire scenario would be rendered moot. Yet, the next pasuk after Aharon informs the people what to do states us that those assembled took out their own earrings right then and there. The text tells us that the people “unburdened themselves of their earrings,” almost as if they couldn’t wait to give of what they had for this foreign idol.
Even after this unfolded, Aharon again tried to buy time. The Torah continues that Aharon took this gold into a cloth and melted it down, while ultimately sculpting it into a calf. Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch explains that Aharon was not simply molding the gold into an eigel, but using an engraving tool, the slowest possible means of fashioning this item. This was meant to deter the masses in the hopes that Moshe would descend the mountain and all would go back to normal.
It’s evident to those reading the parsha and see the events that transpire that there is a tremendous impact to what being inspired can do. Bnai Yisrael awoke early the next day, and rather have a day of service dedicated to Hashem, they served the idol Aharon had made. Bnai Yisrael so desperately craved a connection with something, anything, yet their inspiration was so off base. The same nation that had emphatically declared “naaseh v’nishmah” had soon after plummeted into an unthinkable level of shame and impurity. But can you imagine if instead of the golden calf, the Jewish people at the time were inspired in a different way? If they were able to take those feelings and channel them into something positive and beneficial for the am? What would it have looked like? What would the ramifications have been both then and even today?
There are so many different examples of how individuals were inspired to make a small difference in one area, yet caused a massive ripple effect of good. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1960’s, while watching a community member who had suffered a heart attack die while waiting for an ambulance, a group of people decided to form their own volunteer ambulance corps. As such, today there are many Jewish communities across the globe where Hatzalah can be called at any hour of the day to assist those in need.
This is only one example, and there are plenty more. Just one moment of inspiration can spark a tremendous flame. We must always use that flame to illuminate, and never to destroy.