When criticizing certain sins and excesses (particularly the ones we’re not tempted to commit ourselves), we frequently fail to ask the question, “What is the good thing that this person is seeking in the wrong way?” As a result, the listeners feel condemned, and we feel frustrated at their refusal to want what’s best for them. This article on the Golden Calf from the Chabad-Lubavitch website shows a more compassionate and effective way to frame the question:
On a more contemporary note, I love the country song “Everything That Glitters” by Dan Seals, a man’s bittersweet ode to the woman who has left him to raise their daughter while she rides the rodeo. He feels she’s given up something more valuable for something of lesser worth, and yet he also sees the beauty and daring with which she pursues her dream. It’s a song about how to understand and forgive sins without excusing them, and to hope that someday the other will come to love what you love. (The lyrics convey some of this, but for the full effect, you need to hear the tender way he sings it.)
How did G-d address the gold-sickness of His newly chosen people? He didn’t abolish gold. He didn’t even take away theirs. He told them to use their gold to build Him a Sanctuary.
Compulsive overeating is a horrible disease: it’s unhealthy, it can even kill you. But the urge to eat is not only healthy — it’s vital to life itself.
The same is true of every negative phenomenon. There is nothing intrinsically bad in G-d’s world: every evil is a perverted good, every psychosis a healthy instinct gone awry.
So before we get all riled up over that woman with the two secretaries, let us try to understand the tendency of humans to splurge, flaunt and luxuriate in their wealth. We understand why we need food; we understand why we need shelter; but why do we crave gold?
In essence, the craving for gold is a yearning for transcendence. It is man saying: I am not content to merely exist and subsist; I want to exalt in life, I want to touch its magnificence and sublimity….
The answer, however, is not to squelch these strivings, but to purge them of their negative expressions. Use your yearning for gold to make a home for G-d.