This week, we read about the Golden Calf--the people are afraid because Moses has been up on Sinai for too long, so they panic. They demand a new God, so Aaron (the High Priest) says, "Give me all of your gold, and I'll make you a new God." They do; he does; God gets mad; Moses gets mad; Moses smashes the tablets.
Not our finest moment.
But, a teacher (his name is smudged in my book, so I can't cite him properly*) finds some merit in our idolatrous ancestors: at least they were willing to sacrifice their gold--their money--for their god. Even if he was false, they would do anything for him. As opposed to Jews in "our day" he says, who won't give of their wealth.
* Itturei Torah, volume 3, page 258, 1st teaching. Any of my Rabbi friends able to help?
Now, I'm not sharing this because of the chastisement itself--I'm not suggesting that all of you (all of us, really) are bad because we don't donate enough to our synagogues. I like it for another reasons--our teacher's willingness to find merit, even in an awful, idolatrous act.
Was the Golden Calf a sin? Of course it was. It was an awful thing for our people to do. For God's sake--we had just been rescued by God from slavery. God had split the Red Sea for us! And still, we couldn't be faithful. Such a betrayal.
But, even in that moment, this teacher finds merit. Even within an act which he would still undoubtably condemn, he finds something to admire.
It's easy to see people doing things that they shouldn't be doing. It's easy to get righteously indignant about it. It may even be justified.
But, at the same time, might we be able to find something to admire? Might we find a spark within the darkness? Are we generous enough of spirit?
I'd like to think I am. I'm not sure. Something to think about, and to try, this Shabbat, perhaps.