In this week’s Parashah, the Torah recounts the story of Bnei Yisrael’s regression from a nation that had the privilege of hearing words emanate directly from Hashem’s mouth to a nation that violated one of the most grievous sins in the Torah. In order to better understand the Cheit HaEigel, it is important to note the prelude to this event. How is it possible that anyone—let alone an entire nation—would allow this to happen? There are a few strange Pesukim that are placed right before the episode of the Cheit HaEigel which discuss the sanctity of Shabbat and its significance as being a symbol of affection as well as its being a Brit between the Bnei Yisrael and Hashem. Seemingly, these Pesukim are here not only to highlight the importance of Shabbat, but to underscore the intense mutual love between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael that was present immediately preceding Kabbalat HaTorah. When Bnei Yisrael faltered tremendously with the sin of the Eigel HaZahav, however, they lost that Brit and unique connection with Hashem. As a result, Hashem decides that the only way for the Bnei Yisrael to atone for their sin is for them to be wiped out. Only after the desperate plea of Moshe and the elucidation of the Thirteen Middot HaRachamim, does Hashem decide that He will not destroy the unworthy Jews. Ultimately, however, Hashem sends a plague to punish Bnei Yisrael. This plague signals the first time since the mention of the Brit in which Hashem punishes the Bnei Yisrael. This plague effectively marks the end of that special connection between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem. Hashem was supposed to lead Bnei Yisrael Himself into Eretz Yisrael, yet, after the Cheit HaEigel, He sends a Malach to perform that task instead. Clearly, that special connection that was described in the Parashah of Shabbat right before the Cheit had been severed.
Chazal teach that every sin that Bnei Yisrael committed since the Cheit HaEigel has had a remnant of this original sin permeating it. Consequently, the special connection that existed after the spiritual high of Har Sinai seemingly never fully recovered as Hashem continued to take the Cheit HaEigel into account for the subsequent sins of Bnei Yisrael (see Rashi to Shemot 32:34 s.v. UVeYom Pokdi). The temptation to sin always lurks near the surface despite the intense spiritual zenith that Bnei Yisrael were on. They had just experienced a massive divine revelation at Har Sinai and perceived the glory of Hashem as no generation had seen or will see Him. Additionally, immediately following Cheit HaEigel, the Jews inaugurated the Mishkan, donating so much money that there was actually a surplus of material. This behavior seems atypical of a nation who had just violated such a grievous sin. If we understand that Bnei Yisrael at the time of the Cheit HaEigel were truly devoted to Hashem, we can learn a valuable lesson: As Jews in this generation who have never experienced Har Sinai or been part of a generation of people who portrayed such zealousness to donate to a Makom Hashem, we are surely more susceptible to sin than a nation who merited experiencing Hashem’s voice and true power. Consequently, this episode of the Eigel HaZahav and of the severing of that once-in-a-lifetime connection has allowed us as Jews to gain a unique perspective on the power and influence of sin, and our Sisyphean struggle against it. We have to constantly focus on our mission to serve Hashem and remind ourselves of this national, calamitous sin in order to not enable the potential egregious sins to permeate and fester in our homes and our lives.