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February 24, 1989 - Image 41

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

IN PURSUIT OF

MACHON P.0

and danced in reveling about
the golden calf. Aaron made
no attempt to dissuade the
people from their idolatrous
impulses.
Why did Aaron do all of
this? Why did he not just
refuse? Part of the answer
might have been that he
knew what happened to Hur,
his nephew. Hur attempted to
oppose the mob hysteria, but
the people turned on him and
killed him. If Aaron had acted
as Hur did, perhaps he would
have met a similar fate.
Aaron hated confrontation.
He was above all a man of
peace. The excuses he offered
were those of a leader who
proclaimed he could do no
more than what he had done.
Aaron had tried delaying tac-
tics. He thought the process of
gathering gold from the rings
and earrings would take long
enough for Moses to return-.
Some wonder why Aaron
wasn't punished for his role in
the golden calf. The making

Shibbat Ki Tisa:

Exodus
30:11-34:35,
Kings 18:1-39

of the calf was attributed to
the people, but was he not a
collaborator? When Moses
came near the camp and saw
the calf and the dancing, he
was enraged. He hurled the
tablets from his hands and
shattered them at the foot of
the mountain. Then he took
the golden calf and burnt it.
He ground it to powder, strew-
ed it upon the water and
made the Israelites drink it
(Ex. 32:19-20). Thus, the
Israelites were deemed co-
makers of the calf with
Aaron.
Yet scripture de-emphasizes
Aaron's share in the episode.
The people, not Aaron, iden-
tify the calf with a divinity
(Ex. 32:4). He does not par-
ticipate in the worship.
Moses rebuked Aaron:
"What did this people do to
you that you have brought
such a great sin upon them?"
Aaron defended himself by
saying, "I just threw the
golden earrings into the fire
and out came this calf! It just
happened!" The strange thing
is that Aaron was neither
punished nor disqualified
from the priesthood. It's as if
scripture was trying to play

Richard Hertz is rabbi emeritus of
Temple Beth El.

down his participation in the
golden calf story. One
Midrash tells that Aaron was
punished later through the
death of his two sons, Nadab
and Abihu.
Aaron's conduct throughout
this incident may seem dif-
ficult to approve, or even
understand. But this man
who loved peace above all else
probably feared that division
might result in bloodshed.

The love of peace is Aaron's
outstanding trait. He loved
peace and pursued peace and
thought resistance was futile.
This was probably why he ac-
quiesced to the people's de-
mand when they came to him
and begged him "to make a
god who will go before us."
Aaron tried to gain time un-
til Moses came back. When
he asked for the people to
break off their golden rings,
he thought the demand would
dampen their excitement. To
Aaron's astonishment, they
complied instantly with his
request. One of the rabbis
comments, "What a fickle
people! One day they give
their silver and gold to build
a sanctuary to God and the
next day they do the same to
build a golden calf." Already
they had forgotten one of the
Ten Commandments they
had just accepted: "Thou
shalt not make unto thee a
graven image."
Moses had the feeling of
righteous indignation. What
ingratitude to God! How un-
worthy was this stiff-necked
people who persisted in
idolatry to receive the Tables
of the Law! How could this
people revert so quickly to
idolatry? And a bull? How
could a golden calf replace
Moses as their leader?
It is difficult to detail an un-
biased view of Aaron. There
are many conflicting stories
about him in the Torah. In
rabbinic literature, Aaron is
praised in a way that
minimizes his guilt with
regard to the sin of the golden
calf, for he was later apointed
high priest. Aaron loved his
brother, Moses, and served
him completely free of envy.
Aaron is especially praised
for his love of peace. Accor-
ding to one account, this love
determined Aaron's attitude
toward the golden calf. He
could have put to death all
those who worshipped it, but
his love and compassion for
the people prevented him
from doing so. No wonder
Hillel declared, "Be of the
disciples of Aaron."

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