Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Golden Calves (Parshas Eikev 5775)

The Torah writes (Deutoronomy 9:16):
And I looked, and, behold, ye had sinned against the LORD your God; ye had made you a molten calf; ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which the LORD had commanded you.

Who Worshipped the Golden Calf?

Rashi writes (Exodus 32:4) that it was first worshipped by the mixed multitudes / Erev Rav, and then by regular Jews:
These are your gods: But it does not say, “These are our gods.” -[from here [we learn] that the mixed multitude who had come up from Egypt were the ones who gathered against Aaron, and they were the ones who made it [the calf]. Afterwards, they caused the Israelites to stray after it. -[from Midrash Tanchuma 19]
The Talmud (Yoma 66b) seems to imply these were regular Jews:
Rav Yehuda said: The Tribe of Levi did not serve idols as it says: "And Moses stood in the gate of the camp" ... He said to his father and his mother "I didn't see them" (Deuteronomy 33:9) - father meaning a paternal grandfather who was a regular Jew; brother meaning a maternal half-brother who was a regular Jew; son meaning grandson through his daughter who was a regular Jew
And Rashi (ibid) explains:
for it seems that their father, mother, brother and son did serve idols
However, the Malbim (Exodus 32:7) learns that there were several different groups:
  • The mixed multitudes which built and worshipped it, and were killed in a plague.
  • The Jews that worshipped it without witnesses and warning - they died after drinking the water with ground up gold.
  • The Jews that worshipped it, and were warned and observed by witnesses. They were judged by courts and executed by the Tribe of Levi.
  • The Jews that did not worship but did not protest - they were saved by Moses interceding with G-d.
As the Malbim writes (ibid):
 "Go and descend, for the nation which you brought up from Egypt has become corrupted" (Exodus 32:7) ... and we do not find in any place that the Jewish people are called by the term "nation of Moses" only by the episode of the Golden Calf. From this our Sages explained that the core of the sinners in the episode of the Calf where the mixed multitude and they are not called "the nation of G-d" and G-d did not wanted them to leave Egypt with the Jews. However, Moses took them thinking that he would bring them closer to holiness.
and later on (Exodus 32:31):
"And G-d struck them with a plague" - the mixed multitudes that made the Calf were struck by a plague. The Sages explain that they did not have warning and witnesses, for only the Jews that worshipped had those since there were many who did not serve it. But among the mixed multitudes, all of them served and could not be witnesses for they were among the ones who made it. Therefore, all of the mixed multitudes were destroyed by a plague since G-d did not swear to Moses about them that He will bring them to Israel (see verse 11 above) 

How Many Golden Calves Were Made?

The simple reading of the verse implies only one. However an earlier verse (Exodus 32:4) seems to imply multiple ones:
He took [them] from their hand[s], fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into a molten calf, upon which they said: "These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt!"
The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:2) says that they made 13 calves:
And what did Jeroboam do by making two golden calves? Didn't the Jews make many golden calves as we learned in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: Thirteen calves the Jews made, and one was the main one for all of them. And what is the reason it says "and they said - these are your gods, O Israel" (Exodus 32:4) - that refers to the 12 ones for the tribes. "This is your god" (Nehemiah 9:18) - this is the main one for all of them.
The Zohar (Ki Tisa 84) writes that there was one calf but it was half ox and half donkey.

Bonus - Why did Elazar burn the Red Cow instead of Aaron?

The Midrash (as cited in Sefer Chasdei Hashem Vol 4, pp. 172) says:
"And you should give her to Elazar the priest" (Numbers 19:3) - Why was it done by Elazar and not Aaron? Because he was involved in making the Golden Calf
A similar idea appears in some versions of Rashi (ibid):
And because Aaron made the Golden Calf, this particular procedure was not done through him, for a prosecutor cannot become a defender
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