Imagine with me the shock and dismay that overcame Moses as he, with the Ten Commandments in hand, gazed down from the heights of Mount Sinai only to see the ancient Israelites engaged in an idolatrous celebration around their golden calf.
Could this actually be, he pondered, the same group of people who, just over a month before, had entered into a sacred covenant with God, choosing to become his kingdom of priests and holy people in obedience and service to the Lord.
Ashamed and angered by the revelry, Moses immediately censured the people and their absurd display by hurling the tablets to the ground where they, like his own lofty expectations of the people, just lay shattered in pieces.
Scrutinizing it all from the heavenly heights, God's wrath, too, was kindled against them: "Leave me alone," God admonished Moses, "that my anger may blaze out against them, destroying them all."
But despite his own indignation, Moses quickly interceded: "Lord," he pleaded, "why is your anger so hot against your own people whom you brought out from the Land of Egypt with such great power and mighty miracles?
"Do you really want the Egyptians now to say that you actually tricked the Israelites into coming to the mountains so that you could just kill them there?
"Think again," Moses beseeched, "and turn away from your fierce wrath and from this terrible affliction that you are planning against your people, and remember your promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
The grave mistake that ancient Israel made in all this lay in their misconception that wealth in and of itself would make them truly free. Prior to leaving Egypt, these former slaves amassed that wealth in gold by snatching up as much as they could from their oppressive taskmasters and overlords.
Ultimately, God's anger was assuaged, and he did just as Moses had entreated by reaffirming his sacred pledge to, and covenant with, ancient Israel.
The lesson in all this for us some 3,000 years later is that the greatest wealth that any human being can ever possess is not to be found in a crown of precious metals and stones. Rather, it is found in what the rabbis termed the "crown of a good name" that can only be attained through nobility of character and a lifetime of righteousness and good deeds.
For one of the greatest truths of all truths in human life and endeavor is that it is not g-o-l-d, but rather G-o-d, that is the greatest form of wealth that you and I can ever possibly possess.
Rabbi Larry Schlesinger serves Temple Beth Israel in Macon.