By Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
The sin of the Golden Calf is considered as having been the worst sin that ever took place. Even though the early commentators diminished the severity of the sin by explaining that it was not exactly an example of idol worship, in any case we have been taught that the verse, "And on a day of reckoning, I will take retribution" [Shemot 32:34], means that every difficult time in Yisrael includes an element of punishment for the Calf (Rashi). What makes this act so serious?
It is written, "He came to the nations where they went, and they desecrated My holy name, saying, can this be the nation of G-d, who were expelled from His land?" [Yechezkel 36:19]. Why is it that when the nations say that Yisrael sinned and G-d punished them with exile, this is considered a desecration of the holy name? After all, in this week's Torah portion, it is written, "And the nations will say: 'Why did G-d do this to this land?' And they will say, 'It is because they abandoned the covenant with their G-d.'" [Devarim 29:23].
The sages noted that the first word in the verse by Yechezkel is in the singular, as opposed to all the rest of this chapter, which is plural. This means that the Holy One, Blessed be He, came to the place where Bnei Yisrael were in exile, and that is the place where He hears the reaction of the other nations. They say, "If these people are the nation of G-d, why were they expelled from their land?" If you are the Chosen People, why did G-d throw you out of the land? That is, they do not conclude that G-d has punished them for their sins, rather that the nation has lost its status as the Chosen People, and that a new covenant has been formed. The exile is the foundation of the Christian doctrine of "replacement theology" – and this is a terrible desecration of the holy name. The Holy One, Blessed be He, must react to this doctrine, and He therefore declares that in order to sanctify His name He will gather the exiles of Yisrael from all the corners of the earth, even though they have not yet repented. "And the nations will know that I am G-d" [Yechezkel 36:23], and that G-d did not abandon Yisrael in spite of everything.
As far as the Christians are concerned, the breaking point was the sin of the Golden Calf, and the shattering of the Tablets symbolized the end of the covenant with G-d. The serious problem with the sin of the Calf is that it gave the nations of the world an excuse to postulate that G-d broke the covenant with Yisrael and chose a different people. "... for Aharon let them be disgraced in front of those who rose up against them" [Shemot 32:25].
"If not for the sin of the Golden Calf, the nations who lived in Eretz Yisrael would have surrendered to Yisrael and given in to them, because the name of G-d by which Yisrael were called would have awakened in them a feeling of awe. No war would have been fought, and the influence of G-d would have been distributed in peaceful ways, as will happen in the days of the Mashiach." [Rav Kook, Orot].
About a hundred years ago, Herzl asked the head of the church to support the return of the Jews to their homeland. He replied, "How can we declare that we agree that the Jews should take over as owners of the Holy Land without giving up our most exalted principles?"
In the fourth century, one of the leaders of the church wrote, "The revenge will be for all eternity. They will never have a state of their own, and certainly not a Temple. It is G-d who dispersed them, He hates the Jews and He always has."
Who will remove the dust from the eyes of these people so that they can see that all of the prophecies of redemption have been fulfilled through the nation of Yisrael and not through those who follow the New Testament? Recently the Pope visited Israel and put a wreath Herzl's grave – as if to say, you were right and we were wrong.