Ki Tissa and Depression
According to Rabbi Abraham Twerski not only does depression exist in the Jewish community, but there is a higher rate of depression among Jews than among other people. The Torah writes that we are held accountable for not serving G-d in happiness, implying that it is our responsibility to address depression. The incident of the golden calf (cheit ha’eigel) in parshat Ki Tisa sheds light on the issue of depression.
There is a general principle that our negative force (the yetzer hara) propositions us in small increments. This is because if temptation courted us with too big a lure we would surely decline the offer. The yetzer hara’s goal is to bring us down from level one hundred to level zero. Since this can’t be accomplished in one try the yetzer hara seeks to lower us subtly, one small step at a time (See Shabbos 105b). The sin of the golden calf followed on the heels of the Revelation at Sinai. How is it that the Jewish People descended from receiving the Torah right down to the depths of idolatry? This seems to be a major exception to the prevailing course of events.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the people despaired because they believed that Moshe had died when he seemed to be late according to their calculations. The rule of being vulnerable to the yetzer hara only in regard to small infractions applies to people who are emotionally balanced, but depression opens a person to the possibility of being knocked totally off kilter. Thus, the holy people who’d received the Torah fell swiftly into idol worship. This was possible because they were depressed and in that state all bets are off.Left unattended depression pulls people down from any height.
At the time of the giving of the Torah the Jews were spiritual princes. Then despair got them. The hidden lesson of the golden calf is the imperative of facing the powerful negative force of depression.
Who Are You?
Ki Tissa"They exchanged their honor for that of a cow eating grass". This is how Dovid HaMelech describes the Cheit HaEigel. It would seem more appropriate to say that they exchanged HIS honor. Why does Dovid write "Vayamiru Et Kevodam?"
The RALBAG suggests that G-d's honor IS being referred to, but out of respect it is referenced euphemistically. That having been said, Rav Nissan Alpert suggests a different approach which expands upon this reference to THEIR HONOR EXCHANGED. The Jewish People at the time of the Cheit HaEigel were known as the Dor Deah. They were highly knowledgeable, very intelligent people. And the Cheit HaEiegel's construction was the subject of intense debate. The one's in favor of making the Eigel wanted to use it as a metaphor of the true nature of man,representing the fact that man is essentially an animal. They said that Moshe had lifted them up from their physical nature , but in his absence it was time to return to being what they really were - no different than a cow, eating to live and living to eat. Those who opposed the constructing the eigel felt strongly that man is primarily spiritual in nature. Thus, it was wrong to suggest the cow as an appropriate symbol of the essence of man.
There are various levels of impurity. The lowest is a dead human being. The reason why the human corpse ranks even lower than the carcass of an animal is that a man's only real value rests in his soul. A dead cow can be utilized in many ways, but a dead man's work is done. The Para Aduma comes to purify the lowest form of impurity, acquired through contact with a dead human being. Acceptance of these laws is reflective of an understanding that man's essence is his soul. And this is why Chazal tell us that the Para Aduma is kapara for the Cheit HaEigel, the biggest mistake the Jewish People ever made.
It's much easier to write this than it is to do it: I hope and pray that G-d helps me and all of us to realize - in the most painless way possible - that our essence is our souls. If we forget this and make mistakes - and we will, because that's what people do - at least after the fact we should acknowledge our true nature and return to G-d. This is the path to atonement and salvation, may it come speedily in our days.