What I am about to say is somewhat objectionable, but that’s fine. Anyone who doesn’t want their sensibilities challenged a bit is probably not going to read a Torah web site anyway. I’m not saying everyone who does wants it, but those who do stay away may have this as a reason to.
I’m going to touch on the subject of the Golden Calf in a way that is often addressed by many other rabbis based on the word used to describe the Golden Calf’s position. It wasn’t being set up as a god (el) but rather god (elohim) which also means judge or authority. That’s really what was going on. Remember, the verses tell us that the Calf was a replacement for Moses, not G-d. Also remember what’s happens right after, that the Jews, or at least some of them, go into a wild orgy of sorts. There was no worship involved. Aaron is the one that tries to delay everything by saying that there will be a sacrifice to G-d tomorrow, trying to remind them that there is a G-d and that there are responsibilities attached to that fact.
Many people have said that the Golden Calf alludes to money, that people throw G-d away for the almighty dollar. It doesn’t have to be money though. The Golden Calf is anything that operates in a person’s life that becomes a substitute principle for governing their life besides G-d. Since basically my generation, causes have become the new Golden Calf. Money just doesn’t receive the same respect it used to since everyone thinks they’re entitled to it rather than having to strive for it.
Just an example that crossed my Twitter: Yom HaShoah commemoration. Is it important to remember the Holocaust? Absolutely. But there’s something much more important to remember as a Jew: Passover. It is the Exodus, not the Holocaust, that defines us as Jews. However, throw away G-d and suddenly the Holocaust takes precedence. It’s about the cause: get people to remember, usually for the purpose of the ultimate cause of building bridges and encouraging tolerance, often trying to uproot the Holocaust from its uniqueness as a primarily Jewish tragedy.
If you’ll notice, a lot of major interest groups have Jews either running them or being major members. The president of American Atheists: David Silverstein as are two of the four “New Atheist Four Horsemen”. Michele Levin-Cota: board member of Save the Whales. Bill Maher: board member of NORML and PETA. I rest my case.
When Torah has been uprooted from a Jew’s life, causes fill the void. Of course there’s room for social action and kindness in Judaism. It’s a major piece. It’s not the totality though. There are three pieces of Jewish life: between G-d and man, between man and his fellow, and man and himself. It’s a delicate balance and one can’t be done at the expense of others. In a Jew’s life, G-d is always part of the picture, and when He’s not Jews can end up going OD in one area of their life, sometimes for something really stupid.