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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

 

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin, 1633-4

The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin, 1633-4

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The Torah, comprising the first five books of the Jewish Bible, severely condemns the worship of graven images. However, the Israelites collectively committed a grave sin while wandering through the desert. When Moses, who went over to the Sinai mountain to meet God, did not return at the appointed time, they demanded of Aaron, the brother of Moses, to make them a god to lead them in the desert.

The Molten Calf – Exodus 32:1-6

When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”

Aaron replied, “Take off the golden earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”

So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf.

Then they cried out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”

On seeing this, Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and proclaimed, “Tomorrow is a feast of the LORD.”

Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. Then they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

According to the Aggadah

Aggadah or Haggadah (Heb. הַגָּדָה, אַגָּדָה; “narrative”) is one of the two primary components of the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism. Citing the Aggadah, some rabbis claim that the demand for the idol was due to the forty thousand mixed multitudes, which joined the Israelites at the time of the Exodus.

  • A crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them, with livestock in great abundance, both flocks and herds. (Exodus 12:38)

Two Egyptian magicians, Jannes and Mambres, were among the crowd. They aided in the making of the molten calf (Midrash Yelammedenu, Ki Tissa, Ex. xxxii.)

The crowd said that it was the sixth hour of the fortieth day since Moses had left, the hour which he had previously set for his return. They claimed that since he had not yet appeared he would never come. The people had included the day of the ascent of Moses in their calculation, whereas he had excluded it (Rashi, Shab. 89a).

Satan added fuel to the state of affairs by showing the people a vision of Moses’ bier. This convinced them that he died. So, they demanded Aaron to make a god for them (Shab. 89a; Tanh. B., Ex. 112–3).

God was also blamed since He enslaved them in Egypt where they were exposed to the most idolatrous of ancient civilizations; and giving them an abundance of gold and silver when they left Egypt.

Hur, the son of Miriam and Caleb, tried to dissuade the people from committing the sin of idolatry. Even so, they killed him. Aaron feared that he would share the same fate. Since he wanted peace to prevail, he conceded to their demand. To gain time, he asked them to bring the gold ornaments of their wives. He knew their wives would not part with their ornaments. The men thereupon gave their own jewelry.

Aaron then threw the collected gold into the fire, still hoping that Moses would return. Instantly, however, a calf appeared, alive and skipping. It was the result of a splinter thrown into the fire by the wicked Micah. This splinter contained the words עלהשור (aleh shor, “Come up, Ox”).

Moses had previously thrown this splinter into the Nile when he desired the coffin of Joseph, whom he compared to an ox, to rise above the surface so that he could transport his remains to Ereẓ Israel (Tanḥ. Ki Tissa, 19).

According to another version, the Egyptian magicians made the calf move as if it were alive (Song R. 1:9, no. 3).

Aaron then postponed the celebration to the next day to gain time. God knew that Aaron was motivated by good intentions. So, the high priesthood was not taken away from him. Still, he was severely punished by the subsequent death of two of his sons.

The tribe of Levi and its 12 leaders did not join the worship of the molten calf. The remaining Israelites were mercilessly punished. Whoever sacrificed and burned incense before the altar of the molten calf died by the sword; whoever embraced and kissed the calf died by the plague; and whoever rejoiced in his heart died of dropsy (Yoma 66b).”There is not a misfortune that Israel has suffered, which is not partly a retribution for the sin of the calf” (Sanh. 102a).

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