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  • Torah and Jewish Thought

Aharon and golden calf


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Sivan 14, 5779
Why Moshe did not kill Aaron when he came down from Sinai back to his People? (after Aharon’s business with the golden calf)
ב"ה Additional questions on the same subject: 2.Did Aharon commit sin or not? what was his deeper intention with golden calf thing? 3. How to understand behavior of Aharon in golden calf business? how to understand it correctly ? Shalom, Please forgive me , but I have put your 3 questions together since they all relate to the same issue. Aaron and the golden calf. Your question is an important one and requires a lot more attention than can be given within the scope of this website. Nonetheless, I will try to answer some of the major issues concisely, but you must know there is a lot more to study on this issue. I will try to answer the questions based on the interpretations of Rav Yehuda Halevi in the Kuzari, Rashi on the Torah and also the commentary "Ha'amek Davar of the "Netziv" on the torah. We must understand, what was the intention of Bnei Yisrael, what was the intention of Aaron, and why was Moshe angry at Aaron. According to the Kuzari (I:97) the intention of Bnei Yisrael was NOT to abandon Hashem or to worship Idols, but they felt at loss since Moshe hadn’t returned as they expected and therefore they wanted some physical tangible object towards which they could turn to in prayer as was the case with the pillar of fire and the pillar of the cloud. So it was not idol worship, not betrayal of Hashem but it served a need to have something visual. Nonetheless, it was a sin to make a physical object as a source of worship. According to this commentary, Aaron felt the urge of Bnei Yisrael for something physical, and was looking for a way to delay the creation of such a thing by urging the women and children to give from their jewelry assuming they would take their time before they handed over their gold and in the meantime Moshe would show up as he was supposed to. (Rashi Shemot 32:2) Some say, by creating a physical being, Aaron would be able to weed out the true idol worshippers. (Kuzari, Rabenu Sa'adya Gaon brought in Even Ezra Shemot 31:18) According to the Netziv before the giving of the Torah the prohibition of making any forms or statues was only if they believed that G-d had made this form as something that has its own power. However to ask something of G-d , through a medium such as angels of Hashem ,according to the Netziv, at a time when G-d'd providence over us is close, it was permitted for a person to pray to angles so that they ask for mercy for us. But after the giving of the Torah, it became forbidden to make such a form even with the purest intentions and Aaron was unaware of that distinction. (Netziv ,Ha'amek Davar Shemot 32:2) When Moshe came down from Mt. Sinai, although he knew that Aaron had no intention, G-d forbid to worship idols, he was still angry at Aaron because what he did was in any case forbidden although Aaron was aware of this, and G-d's name became desecrated due to his actions. (Netziv ,Ha'amek Davar Shemot 32:21) I sincerely pray I have added some clarity to the issue, but as I said there is much to learn on this subject.
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