Deuteronomy opens with a detailed description of the location where Moses delivered his final speeches:
“These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel on the east bank of the Jordan River... near Paran, Tofel, Lavan, Chazeroth, and Di Zahav.” (Deut. 1:1)
Why do we need to know the precise location of Moses’ orations? The Sages explained that each of these names held a special meaning — and a veiled rebuke — for those listening. ‘Di Zahav,’ for example, was a reminder of the Sin of the Golden Calf (zahav meaning ‘gold').
According to one opinion, however, the name Di Zahav also indicated a justification for the behavior of the Jewish people:
“What is Di Zahav? This is what Moses told God: ‘Master of the World! It is because of all the silver and gold that You showered upon the Israelites — until they said, Dai! [Enough!] — that is what caused them to make the Golden Calf.'1 (Berachot 32a)
Do you know anyone who had enough money and refused to accept more?
The basis of serving God is our natural drive to continually advance and achieve. The goal of life is to be close to God, Whose perfection is boundless. Thus we must continually perfect ourselves in order to draw near to God. Of course, this aspiration can never be fully attained. We are never able to say, “Enough! I have achieved everything.” Each accomplishment makes us aware of even greater challenges and goals.
In order to lead us on this path of constant growth, God planted within the human soul the incessant drive to always seek more. As Solomon noted: “The soul will never be sated” (Ecc. 6:7). This drive also compels us regarding material acquisitions: “One who loves silver never has his fill of silver” (Ecc. 5:9). Our drive for more is an indication that we can only attain our true goals through continual spiritual growth.
When the Israelites sojourned in the wilderness, all of their physical needs were taken care of. They drew water from the well of Miriam, manna rained down from the sky, and their clothes never wore out. In this situation, they had little to gain by seeking additional possessions and wealth. It would just be more to carry. The soul’s natural drive was artificially suppressed, so that when the Israelites were showered with more silver and gold than they could ever need, their response was, ‘Enough!’
This was Moses’ defense for the Jewish people. Their unique existence in the wilderness, where all their needs were miraculously provided, stifled their soul’s natural desire for more. Dependent upon gifts from Heaven, lacking challenges and goals, they became satisfied and indolent. And this impacted their spiritual aspirations.
Since their natural drive to advance was weakened, the Israelites turned to more easily attainable spiritual goals. And this is what led them to the Sin of the Golden Calf.
What is the root of idolatry? It is the psychological desire to cleave to something closer to us, something tangible and finite. It is the choice not to seek out the infinite and boundless, but to take the easier route, to be content worshipping a force which is easy to identify and relate to.
This aberrant form of spirituality suited a people with limited aspirations. This is what Moses told God: “Di Zahav — it is because of all the silver and gold that You showered upon the Israelites, until they said, ‘Enough!’ - that is what caused them to lower their sights and worship the Golden Calf.”
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, pp. 140-141)
1The Midrash interprets the name Di Zahav as “dai zahav” — “enough gold.”