Questioning faith in the parsha
February 19, 2011: 15 Adar I, 5771
Modern Author: Sholem Asch
KOSHI: HOW does leadership/or lack there of impact the formation of Israel’s Covenant? WHY did the golden calf happen? WHAT does the calf incident teach us about faith today?
REMEZ…Dialogue of the Centuries—Reclaiming Culture/Connection
v.1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron,saying to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”
RASHI… “boshesh”—That is, “delayed”—an expression of lateness…[Shabbat 89a]When Moses ascended the Mountain, he told them: 40 days time and I shall be back by midday. They thought that the day of his ascent was included in the count, while he meant 40 complete days… Satan came and threw the world into chaos, giving it the appearance of darkness and gloom, as if to say, “Surely your Moses is dead…”
ABARBANEL… Why did Moses’ delay make them ask “for a god who shall lead us?” Moses was not a god.
RASHI… “asher yeyl’chu”—That is, who shall go—in the plural form. They desired many gods.
RAMBAN… RASHI’s comment to this verse is somewhat off target. In fact, this whole verse is key to understanding the episode of the golden calf…Obviously, the Israelites did not think Moses was a god. They explicitly asked for “a god who shall go before us.” What they wanted was a second Moses…
Let us make a new Moses who will guide us at God’s command; a new “man of God” You can tell this from Aaron’s excuse to Moses: “They said to me: Make us a god to lead us,”[v.23] not a god to worship.
v.2-3 And Aaron said to them: Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons & daughters, and bring them to me. And all the people took off the gold
TANCHUMA…Aaron said to himself: The women and children are fond of their jewelry. Perhaps the matter will be delayed, and Moses will arrive in the meantime. But the men did not wait, they took off the gold rings and brought…
BeCHOR SHOR…Aaron went along because he thought: If I suggest that they make Caleb or Nachshon or someone like that the leader, when Moses returns he will not give up power. And Moses wouldn’t like it if I suggest myself.
v.4 This he took from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed: This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from Egypt!
RASHI… Once he threw it into the furnace, the wizards of the mixed multitude turned it into a calf by magic.
AVRAHAM ben HaRAMBAM…I have a tradition from my father and teacher of blessed memory that this was because, even now, they still held fast to their astrological beliefs, convinced that they left Egypt under the zodiacal sign of the bull—and that their destiny was so governed.
RALBAG…But not a lamb, so as to keep them from returning to the corrupt religion from which they had escaped. Since Taurus follows Aries, Aaron was clever enough to choose a calf instead.
BeCHOR SHOR…Literally, “your gods” a plurality, perhaps referring to the calf & Aaron, thinking he’d lead.
v.5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it and said:” Tomorrow shall be a Festival to the Lord.”
RASHI… Aaron was certain it would be a Festival unto the Lord—that Moses would return the next day.
RALBAG…To keep control of the situation, in the guise of an idolatrous priest, he built an altar.
VaYIKRA RABBAH…Aaron saw many things. He saw his nephew Hur murdered for rebuking them. We know this from the phrase Vayiven mizbe’ach l’fanav, which he read to say VaYaven mi-zavu’ach l’fanav. He saw that he too would be killed if he resisted. He also “saw” that it would be better if the infamy of this sin were attached to him rather than to the Israelites
v.6 Early next day, the people offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat to eat and drink, and then rose up to dance.
MUNK… Aaron’s pure intentions are given prominence by our Sages…In reality, though, despite his best intentions, he did participate in an act which contributed to the spiritual deterioration of the people.
…Aaron could never erase from his conscience the recollection of that scene when the calf was worshipped. And on the day of the Tabernacle’s inauguration he approached the altar with trembling, for the sight of its horns brought back memories of the calf. Moses had to bolster his spirit with words of encouragement [RASHI-Lev 9:7] before he consented to carry out his office as kohen gadol.