July 11, 2013

Devarim: Di Zahav – Too Much Gold

What is Di Zahav?

The book of Devarim opens with a detailed description of the location where Moses delivered his final speeches:

“These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel on the east bank of the Jordan river … near Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chazeroth, and Di Zahav.” (Deut. 1:1)

Why do we need to know the precise location of Moses’ orations? The Sages explained that these names all contained a special meaning — and a veiled rebuke — for those listening. Di Zahav, for example, was a reminder of the sin of the Golden Calf (zahav meaning ‘gold’).

According to one opinion, however, the name Di Zahav also indicated a justification for the behavior of the Jewish people:

“What is ‘Di Zahav’? This is what Moses told God: Master of the World! It is because of all the silver and gold that You showered upon the Israelites — until they said, Dai! [Enough!] — that is what caused them to make the golden calf.” (Berachot 32a)
Do you know anyone who had enough money, and refused to accept more?

The Human Drive For More

The basis of serving God is our natural, inner drive to continually grow and improve. The goal of life is to be close to God, Whose perfection is boundless. Thus, we must continually perfect ourselves in order to draw near to God. Of course, this aspiration can never be fully attained. We are never able to say, ‘Enough! I have achieved everything.’ Each accomplishment makes us aware of even greater challenges and goals.

In order to lead us on this path of continual improvement, God implanted within the human soul the incessant drive to always seek more. As Solomon said, “The soul will never be sated” (Kohelet 6:7). This drive also compels us in material acquisitions: “A lover of silver never has his fill of silver” (Kohelet 5:9). Our inner drive for more is an indication that we only attain our true goals through constant spiritual growth.

Limited Aspirations

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, all of their physical needs were taken care of. They drew water from the well of Miriam, manna rained down from the sky, and their clothes never wore out. In this situation, they had little to gain by seeking more possessions and wealth. Just more to carry, perhaps. The soul’s natural drive was artificially suppressed, so that when the Israelites were showered with more silver and gold than they could ever need, their response was — Enough!

This was Moses’ defense for the Jewish people. Their unique existence in the wilderness, when all their needs were miraculously provided, stifled their soul’s natural desires for more. Dependent upon gifts from heaven, lacking challenges and goals, they became satisfied and indolent. And this impacted their spiritual aspirations.

Since their natural drive to continually grow was weakened, the Israelites turned to more easily attainable spiritual goals. And this is what led them to the sin of the Golden Calf.

What is the root of idolatry? It is the psychological desire to cleave to something closer to us, something tangible and finite. It is the choice not to seek out the infinite and boundless, but to take the easier route, to be content worshipping a force or power which we can easily identify and relate to.

This aberrant form of spirituality suited a people with limited aspirations. Thus Moses told God: ‘Di Zahav — it is because of all the silver and gold that You showered upon the Israelites, until they said, Enough! — that is what caused them to worship the golden calf.’

Adapted from Ein Eyah vol 1 p.140-1

In my understanding of the Midrash, Moshe Rabbenu defended the Jewish people by telling HaShem that He had given them too much gold- what were they supposed to do with it all in the midbar? There were no shopping malls, yet!

At the same time he rebukes his people ( by hint and not directly as they, the new generation did not actually make the golden calf) saying that HaShem showered you with so much and what did you do with it?

This is the method of a true leader and lover of Israel and despite the fact that there aren’t any nowadays, nevertheless there is a message for us.

Wishing you an easy and meaningful fast.

Meir Wise


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