The Torah’s account of the infamous Sin of the Golden Calf begins with a description of what led to the creation of the idol. “The people saw that Moshe’s descent from the mountain was delayed. The people gathered around Aharon and said to him: “Come and make us a god… we don’t know what happened to this Moshe fellow!” The motivation for forming the Calf mentioned here leads to a basic question. If they were anxious because of the lack of leadership resulting from Moshe’s apparent delay, why would an idol be the first way to resolve that problem? When electing a replacement for Moshe, it would seem to make more sense for the nation to choose Aharon himself who had already proven his dedication and talent, rather than concoct an idol to somehow fill that role.
In 1898, when the city of Bialystock sought a new rabbi, there was a particular candidate that many felt should be preferred because of his connection to the city. This candidate, R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843 – 1926), was raised in Bialystock and eventually grew up to become a widely acclaimed Torah scholar and author. There were influential community leaders, however, that rejected the idea. They said that in spite of his admittedly stellar reputation, since he was one of their own they knew him too well and could therefore not engage him as their community’s rabbi. The story goes that when R. Meir Simcha heard about it, he reacted by somewhat mischievously sharing a psychological insight into the episode of the Sin of the Golden Calf that resolves the issue mentioned above. The people that brought about the Golden Calf subconsciously felt that it was better to appoint an unintelligent baby cow to lead them provided it’s a stranger and heretofore unknown to them, rather than appoint an albeit highly qualified leader but nevertheless one of their own that was well-known and familiar to them. It is human nature to reflexively prefer the new to the old. If this inclination results in taking a vacation or buying new clothes, no harm, obviously, is done. But if it is left unchecked, as in the case of the Sin of the Golden Calf (and, according to R. Meir Simcha, the case of the rejection of his rabbinic candidacy as well), this propensity can lead one to make illogical and self-destructive choices.