Charity and Shabbat: The Remedy for the Sin of the Golden Calf
“Moses assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel and said to them, ‘These are the things that the L-RD commanded, to do them: On six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for the L-RD; whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day’” (Ex 35:1-3).
For what reason did Moses, after having summoned all the assembly of the Children of Israel, speak to them first of the mitzvot of Shabbat, rather than the other commandments? As we have seen, he spoke to them about this several times before. Since G-d first commanded them to construct the Tabernacle, why does Moses mention the laws of Shabbat before those concerning the construction of the Tabernacle?
The reason for this was because the sin of the golden calf affected the oneness of the Holy One, blessed be He. In proclaiming, “Here are your gods, O Israel,” the Children of Israel demonstrated that they believed in several divinities, even renouncing the entire Torah. To this effect, commenting on the verse that states, “If you err and do not perform all of these commandments” (Num 15:22), the Talmud explains that the person who renounces idolatry recognizes the entire Torah, and the person who recognizes idolatry acts as if he renounces the entire Torah.
Moses summoned the entire assembly of the Children of Israel in order to shelter them under the wings of the Divine Presence and to make them rediscover the faith that they had lost because of the sin of the golden calf. He immediately prescribed them to observe Shabbat, a day that had been blessed by G-d, as it is written, “G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gen 2:3), the observance of which even constitutes the foundation of our faith. For, as we have seen, the one who strictly observes Shabbat atones for his sins, even if he worshiped idols (as with the generation of Enoch).
Shabbat is equal to all the other mitzvot (Yerushalmi Berachot 1:5), and its observance corrects the sin of Avodah Zarah (idolatry; but literally “strange service”), for all service is forbidden on Shabbat.
Moses made the Children of Israel understand that the construction of the Tabernacle and the Sanctuary would spiritually elevate them, transform them into a miniature sanctuary, and imbue them with the Shechinah. He explained to them that the Terumah (offering) that they had made would rectify their renouncing of the Torah (Torah and the letter Mem) that had been given to them at the end of 40 days (Menachot 99b).
As we have seen (Zohar I:52b), the evil inclination – the taint of the serpent – had abandoned them with the giving of the Torah, but had reintroduced itself to them after the sin of the golden calf. Moses therefore explained to them that they could only uplift themselves through the mitzvah of Terumah, of charity, as it is written, “Charity will uplift a nation” (Pr 14:34). Only tzeddakah was able to repair the sparks of holiness that had been affected by the stain of the serpent. The offerings given for the construction of the holy Temple – the place where the Shechinah resides – wipes out the power of klipah and ends the effect that renouncing the entire Torah has, for charity is equal to all the mitzvot (Bava Batra 9a).
The charity that one gives therefore makes the Divine Presence reside in the midst of collective Israel and brings the Final Redemption closer (ibid. 10a), as it is written, “Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through tzeddakah” (Isa 1:27).
Moses also prescribed the mitzvah of Shabbat before that of the construction of the Tabernacle to make us understand that, even if one has not earned anything, one must give charity. If the weekly Torah portion of Terumah follows immediately after the precepts concerning Shabbat, it is to encourage us to give charity as soon as Shabbat ends (or Sunday morning) without waiting longer. Each one will give what he can, according to the blessings that G-d has granted him (cf. Deut 16:17). As it is written, “You shall surely give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him” (ibid. 15:10).
After having answered the prayers of His children and acknowledged their sentiments of gratitude, G-d made them undergo the trial of money to see if their love for Him was truly unselfish (see Perkei Avoth 5:19), like the love of the Patriarchs. In regards to this, and concerning the verse that states, “You shall love the L-RD your G-d will all your heart … and all your possessions,” the Talmud states, “even if He takes away your possessions” (Yoma 82a).
This is what happened during the sin of the golden calf. The Children of Israel took advantage of the riches that they had acquired. Moses therefore prescribed that they take from their riches an offering for the Eternal, encouraging them in this way to make use of their silver and their gold for the construction of the Tabernacle and for charity.
Finally, the sin of the golden calf creates a stain on the holy Covenant, namely sexual perversion (cf. Tanhuma Ki Tisa 20 on Exodus 35:6). As we know, the one who strictly observes the Brit is included in G-d’s holy assembly. The three first letters of the verse that states, “He devoured wealth, but will disgorge it” (Job 20:15) form the Holy Name ChaBO (not to be pronounced) that rectifies the sin of the Brit. Because of the letters vav and Yud of Vayakhel (whose numerical value, 16, is thus equal to the Name of G-d, Yud Ke [with the Kollel]), one enters into the category of Kahal (the holy assembly) and we rectify the Covenant.
Moses explained to the Children of Israel that one can, thought the observance of Shabbat and giving charity, repair the sign of the Covenant, for Shabbat also carries the name “Brit”, as it is written, “The Children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal Brit [covenant] for their generations” (Ex 31:16). Shabbat and charity are equal to all the mitzvot (Bava Kama 9a), and it is the same with the Covenant, as our Sages teach (Nedarim 32a). In regards to this, we can see the same lesson in the following note written by the Admor of Ger on the tractate of Nedarim: “All the Divine precepts [kol mitzvot Hashem] have the same numerical value as ‘Brit’ (612)”.
The essential is to fear G-d. In this way, one will look to continually correct oneself, to acquire virtues, and to assemble (vayakhel) every good trait.