Whilst my young children sit wide-eyed, listening to the stories I tell them about life in Communist Russia, I found myself speaking as if I’m an ancient historian that stubbornly battled old age to pass down to later generations the events of a dark and forgotten era. However, my body and voice return to their boring default position when I remind myself that many of the atrocious stories I heard as current events in my youth occurred a mere couple of decades ago, and could disappointingly be told by a man in his youthful Thirties as myself. This dissatisfaction, though, triggers amazement in how within such a short period of time the big black Russian bear was assassinated together with the Gulag, KGB and the black sedans—not with a bullet, but by the bulging doors of the dictator’s wardrobe. It was only whenthe people finally caught on to the truth within George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm” that their oppressors believed that “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others” that they lashed out on an empty stomach against the corruption with their pens, and voices until perestroika materialised. Yet if the early comrades had taken note of the Torah’s prediction of the various “isms” and had not given the credence it desperately required at its ovulation, the Siberian landscape would be a little less interesting and the vehicle driven by the average Russian a little more.
In this week’s parsha, we recall the tragic sin the fledgling Jewish nation committed with the golden calf, which resulted in the death of thousands of men and an indelible stain on the Jewish character. After the event the Torah tells us, “They arose early the next day and offered up burnt-offerings and bought peace offerings. The people sat to eat and drink, and they got up to revel “(Shemos 32:6). (Rashi comments that in there state of revelling they committed the three cardinal sins of idolatry, licentiousness and murder.) Rav Yackov Galinsky, with a brilliant twist, teaches that this verse is not merely a recollection of a heartbreaking historical event, but the Torah warns that this exact scenario will replay itself in the future rise of catastrophic idealistic dogmas.
With a few words, the Torah draws us the picture of how corrupt revolutionary leaders [including the charismatic Yetzer Horah] sell their wares to the gullible crowds. First, they offer up burnt offerings—sacrifices that no human being but G-d receives any portion of—to show how selfless their devotion is to the common good. Nothing is for themselves; everything is for another. Once trust has been planted, the next stage of sacrifices are those of the peace offerings, something not entirely for G-d or ideals, but shared by man too. They smooth-talk the nation into believing that, as a leader, they require a little extra cushioning in order to impress those who will be drawn into the cause by a leader who has a little finesse. When the comrades have bought into that too, then begins the eating and the drinking, the good of the cause and the nation is flung out of the same door the bribery corruption and extravagance enters into. Finally, with the system firmly in place, they get up to revel in murder of those who dare oppose, worship their own egos and rape the nation of its assets, ideals and future.
The average Westerner living in a world unaffected by communism (other than the inconvenience of not being able to buy Cuban cigars legally) isn’t completely free of these complications. He’s still subjected to the threat of the revolutionary rebel leader that calls out from deep inside him to use character assassination against the local Rabbi, or his business competition rationalizing that on a strictly morally objective ground that’s what must be done. Here we are taught that the truth-seeker must ask himself if the Rabbi really is that incompetent, or whether it’s that the Rabbi awakens a conscience that interferes with his guilt-free decadence. So too is the competition selling defective wares—to the extent that slander is being fired against him—merely to protect the innocent public or is it because he needed an extra income injection in order to buy a chandelier that would match one hanging in the winter home of the comrade who cared so much that everyone should be equal?
Rabbi Sipper is a close friend of ShortVort.com. Further divrei Torah from the Rov can be found on his yeshiva’s website at www.ohravraham.com