Golden Calf - Moses Stands Up

September 12, 2012 | by

Why did the Jews worship the Golden Calf?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

After receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses ascends Mount Sinai and stays there for 40 days. Uncertain when Moses will return and fearful he has died, the Israelites feel lost and leaderless. They make an idol of a golden calf. Then they become drunk and have an orgy. (Exodus 24:15-18)

The music is just one part of a rock concert's appeal. The crowd is drunk or high; it's dark, and the noise is overwhelming. In that disorienting atmosphere of clamor and passion, we are briefly freed from our own fragile individuality and swept up in the power of the crowd. That sense of release is what the Israelites sought in their worship of the calf.

God tells Moses what the Israelites have done. Then God says, "Now don't try to stop Me, because I'm going to destroy the whole nation."

Moses responds, "Why should You be so angry at Your people, whom You took out of Egypt, with great power and a strong hand? Why should Egypt say, 'He took them out to kill them in the mountains and to annihilate them from the face of the earth?' Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel... to whom You swore, and You told them, 'I shall increase your offspring, like the stars of heaven, and this entire land of which I spoke, I shall give to your offspring and it shall be their heritage forever.'" God agrees not to destroy the people (Exodus 32:7-14).

Moses' argument has two parts:

1. If the Israelites don't reach the Promised Land, it will seem to demonstrate that God is weak or that His promises are unreliable. (Until the establishment of Israel in 1948, Christian theology viewed Jewish exile and suffering as evidence that God had repudiated the covenant with Abraham.)

2. Though the Israelites have made a serious mistake, it's an aberration and not reflective of who they truly are. Despite their lapse, they are still the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. These are some of the greatest spiritual giants of world history. The good news is that you can cash in on that lineage.

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