This week’s parsha contains a famous episode: that of the golden calf. After Moshe Rabbenu ascends mount Sinai and does not return, the people form a statue of a calf out of their golden jewellery and despite Aharon’s attempts to distract them, they worship it, incurring G-d’s wrath. He decides to destroy the Israelites, but Moshe begs for mercy, and He relents. When Moshe descends the mountain he smashes the stone tablets with the testimony inscribed on them, and destroys the calf, alongside killing some of the idol worshipppers. G-d forgives, but warns that he will visit their iniquities upon their children and their children’s children. Moshe once again climbs Mount Sinai, whre he is taught the 13 Divine attributes, and where G-d inscribes the covenant upon a second set of tablets.
The story of the Golden Calf is famous for a reason. It is rich with meaning, and teaches us about G-d’s mercy and human nature. It’s also an astounding and physically overwhelming scene, which makes it very memorable. But before all of this ‘excitement’ takes place, there’s another passage in the Torah which is perhaps less shocking, but certainly relevant to our lives; the Israelites are commanded to contribute exactly half a shekel of silver to the Sanctuary. Both the rich man and the poor man must give exactly the same amount; one half shekel. While this initially seems like a confusing and unnecesssary rule, it in fact teaches us a lot about the nature of G-d.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches, ”People differ in their intellect, character and talents, in the quantity of their material resources and the timbre of their spiritual sensitivities. But all are equal in the very basis of their bond with G‑d: the intrinsic commitment to Him that resides at the core of their souls. So while every man contributed to the making of the various components of the Sanctuary in accordance with their individual capacity, all gave equally of the silver of which its foundation was made. As regards the foundation of the relationship between man and G‑d, the “rich man” cannot give more, and the “pauper” cannot give less.”
What does this tell us about our nature as a people? It tells us that we’re one. That we’re all equal before G-d. And most importantly, that our external, superficial natures mean nothing; it’s what’s on the inside, what’s in our hearts- and, most importantly- our souls, which really counts for something. In the 21st century, we hear a lot about labels. Labels are for clothes, not for people, one slogan famously declares- and it seems that this very ‘2017’ viewpoint was in fact derived from the Torah, and echoed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, many years before.
So what can we take away from this? How can we apply it to modern life, when there isn’t a Sanctuary to contribute to? Above all, we should know that as a people, we are all equal and we all have the spark of Moshe Rabbenu in our souls. In fact, we’re like a massive extended family, and our father is G-d. So don’t think that because you don’t dress as a ‘chassid’, or because you’re not as religious as your neighbours, you aren’t one of his children. You are. Everything else is external. Even your level of observance is- because once you start working on your relationship with G-d, you’ll want to take on more mitzvos. A Jew forever remains a Jew- and, thus, one of G-d’s children- no matter what life decisions they make.