Congregation Ohave Shalom - Young Israel of Pawtucket

On-line Tanach Class
Aaron and the Golden Calf

Week One - Introduction

The approach we have been taking at the Chumash class has developed into a three-step-process:
1. Look at the verses, and pick out questions within the text, both in terms of grammar and in terms of content.
2. Attempt to understand how the Pashtanim (literalists) resolved the difficulties, and how they then understood the overall message of the text.
3. Attempt to understand how the Midrashic sources resolved the difficulties, and how they then understood the overall message of the text.

Our current topic is that of Aharon's role in the Sin of the Golden Calf. The story itself is found in Exodus 32 and Deuteronomy 9.

This week, we reduced this broad topic into three central questions, in an attempt to provide some focus for the discussion:
A. What did Aharon think he was doing?
B. How did Aharon react to the results of his actions?
C. Was Aharon punished for his role?

We also noted two additional questions:
A. What was Moshe's reaction to Aharon's role?
B. What was the reaction of the Jewish people to Aharon's role?

In the next e-mail, I hope to provide a synopsis of the discussion and questions we picked out of the text.


Week Two - Aharon and the Jewish People

We approached the text by breaking it down into three sections:
A. Aharon and the Jewish People
B. Aharon and Gd
C. Aharon and Moshe

A. Aharon and the Jewish People
In Exodus 32, the Jews approach Aharon and ask him to create the Golden Calf. We noted the following points in the text; please look in a Chumash to match up the questions with their contexts. (Those who were at the class will note that some points are absent; an e-mail covering a whole session would take quite a while to write and to read):

Textual points:
"Al Aharon" - They gathered _on_ Aharon
"Moshe haIsh" - Emphasis on Moshe's humanity; contrast with the phrase, "Aseh Lanu Elo-him."
"He'elanu" - Did Moshe actually take the people out of Egypthimself? (Note Moshe's absence from the Haggadah)
"Lo Yadanu..." - Did they think he was dead? Then why didn't they say so?

Food for thought, as far as the story:
1. Why did they come to Aharon? If they were looking to break from Moshe's reign, and especially to violate the law regarding images, why did they come to Aharon, Moshe's brother?
2. If they weren't looking to break with Moshe's reign, why didn't they choose Aharon, himself?
3. Did the people know where Moshe had gone? Look back at the end of the Ten Commandments in Yisro, and in VaEschanan. Where did Moshe say he was going, and for how long was he to be gone?

32:2/3"Aznei Nesheichem"/"Azneihem" - Why didn't Aharon ask them to bring their own gold?
Why didn't the people bring their own gold?
32:4"He'elucha" - Didn't they just say (32:1) that Moshe had taken them from Egypt? Aside from 32:1, how could they think the calf had removed them from Egypt?

32:5"Chag LaShem" - Why does Aharon switch from "Elo-him," which had been used until this point, to "Gd?"
"Machar" - Why the next day?

32:6"VaYashkimu" - Note that the people woke early
"LeTzachek" - Does this sound like worship, or something else?


Week Three - Aharon and Gd, Aharon and Moshe

B. Aharon and Gd
Exodus 32:7 -Note that Gd says nothing to Moshe as far as Aharon's involvement with the Calf.

BeMidbar 20:24 -Aharon dies for involvement at Merivah (see BeMidbar 20:12-13), not for the Golden Calf. Same in Deuteronomy 32:51.

C. Aharon and Moshe
Exodus 32:21 -"Meh Asah Lecha" - How did Moshe know Aharon had been involved, at all? Or was this a question which did not assume real involvement on Aharon's part?

32:24 -Does Aharon's account match what happened?

32:25 -"Fera'oh (note resemblance to Paroh) Aharon" - Has Moshe seen through Aharon's account of the story?

32:37 -Moshe tells the Levi'im that they must even kill their own brothers, if their brothers had been involved with the Calf. Which Levite had a brother who was involved in the Calf? The text tells us of only one - and he was not killed. Was Moshe making a point here?

Deuteronomy 9:8-21 -Moshe's account of the Golden Calf event - Note that Moshe makes no mention of Aharon's role, other than to say that Gd was angry at Aharon - something we didn't even see in the first run of the story!

Lots of questions...stay tuned!


Week Four - The "Peshat" Approach

We turn to the Ibn Ezra, in our initial attempt to resolve our questions regarding Aharon's role in the Golden Calf.

The Ibn Ezra represents the "Peshat," or "literalist" school. His approach is marked by a rigid loyalty to grammar and text, and an unwillingness to use Midrash to resolve- textual difficulties or storyline questions.

It is important to note, though, that this approach does not reject Midrash. The Ibn Ezra acknowledges the place of Midrash, as Midrashic interpretation informs some of the many levels on which the Torah text is to be viewed. Ibn Ezra's approach in his commentary, though, is to try to gain an understanding of what the text, unembellished and unelaborated upon, is trying to tell us. Many of Ibn Ezra's comments, including some of those on the Golden Calf, are in outright contradiction of Talmudic texts - not because he rejects the Talmud, Gd-forbid, but because he is reading the text with an eye toward something else.

For a fuller [but still-incomplete] treatment of the issue of Peshat and Midrash, please see an article on the Ohave Shalom web site, at

Ibn Ezra initially delineates his approach to our questions by rejecting 5 approaches of others:

1. Recall that there were four leaders of the Jewish nation - Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua and Chur (Moshe's nephew). At the end of Mishpatim (Exodus 24:14), Moshe left Aharon and Chur in charge. From the fact that Chur is never mentioned again, we see that Chur died somewhere here.
This approach suggests that the nation approached Chur as well as Aharon, and Chur demurred, at which point he was killed. Aharon panicked, either out of fear for his own life or out of fear that the nation would put itself into a position of inestimable guilt by killing himself as well. He went along with the idolatry to save his own life.

Ibn Ezra rejects this, on three grounds:
a. There have been lesser figures, including Chur himself, who have given up their lives rather than commit idolatry.
b. This was idolatry; the law is that one must even give up his own life rather than commit idolatry!
c. Aharon and his descendants would be the Kohanim, who would atone for other people; they can't have worshipped idols!

In other words - Ibn Ezra is saying that it is unacceptable to believe that Aharon worshipped, or abetted in the worship of, idolatry.

2. The Jews tricked Aharon into putting the gold in; he didn't know it would be formed into a Calf. Ibn Ezra has two objections:
a. Aharon was no idiot.
b. Aharon built an altar for the Calf, after it had been formed!

In other words - Ibn Ezra is rejecting the possibility that this was idolatry, and Aharon was an ignorant participant.

3. This was another "Aharon," not Moshe's brother.

Ibn Ezra has two objections:
a. The people came to this Aharon as the stand-in for Moshe
b. Then why did Moshe daven for him, as Moshe reports he did (Deuteronomy 9:20), rather than kill him with the other idolaters?

4. Aharon was saying one thing to the people, and thinking another; he wasn't actually involved in idolatry.

Ibn Ezra has two objections:
a. Since when is thought effective, in Jewish law?
b. One is liable for idolatrous acts, even without intending to perform them!

5. Aharon was trying to trick the Jews, to stall, pretending to go along with them while he was trying to delay until Moshe could return.

Ibn Ezra has two objections:
a. Aharon wasn't fooling anyone; he clearly said "Celebration for Gd (Exodus 32:5)," not "Celebration for the Calf" or "Celebration for Elo--him." If Aharon meant that there would be a celebration for Gd, and not the Calf, then the people knew that.
b. Aharon didn't use this as an excuse when addressing Moshe.

What Ibn Ezra has done, with his rejection of these five views, is to establish certain principles:
1. Aharon was the one who formed the Calf and arranged the celebration. If those acts were idolatrous, then Aharon would be guilty of idolatry.
2. It is not acceptable to suggest that Aharon worshipped idols, with or without knowledge, and with or without intent.
3. It is not acceptable to suggest that the people didn't know what Aharon was doing, if one is to assume that Aharon was trying to perform something other than idolatry.

Ibn Ezra then offers his own version of events:

1. The people saw that Moshe was gone, and thought he could not survive so long while away, without food (Manna didn't descend on Har Sinai). Moshe had not given them a deadline for his trip; he hadn't known the deadline, himself.

2. The people wanted a manifestation of Divine presence, to lead them on the road. This was the request they put to Aharon.

3. Aharon agreed to this need for a replacement, and so he brought them the Calf, himself. There was no intent, on his part or on the part of the nation, for idolatry.

4. A small group among the people then hijacked the celebration, and turned it into idolatry.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will examine how Ibn Ezra sees this in the actual biblical verses.


Week Five - The "Peshat" approach, part II

This week, we began with a discussion which dealt with a point raised at last week's class. The Ibn Ezra claimed that the nation asked Aharon for a "physical manifestation of Gd's Presence/Power," and that there was nothing wrong with that request, or Aharon's formation of a molten calf to meet that request. Our question was that this seems to be an idolatrous act, in itself.

We cited the Rambam (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim, 3:9-10), who ruled that the rule against creating/owning idolatrous forms has two parts:
A. Owning or creating a form which is used as an idol
B. Creating a three-dimensional, non-engraved and non-embroidered form of a human being, for beauty.
In short, their desire was not, according to the Rambam, idolatrous or in violation of Torah law.

We then turned to the Torah's text to find the source for the Ibn Ezra's interpretation.

The Ibn Ezra claimed that Moshe never gave the nation a deadline for his trip. We noted this in the end of Parshas Mishpatim, Exodus 24:12-18. Those same verses provide the basis for assuming that Moshe did not bring provisions to the mountain.

The nation then came to Aharon. In Exodus 32:1 we find the language, "VaYikahel...Al Aharon (they gathered on Aharon, or against Aharon)," which the Ibn Ezra says is an early sign of trouble.

The people said, "Get up, and make for us an Elo-him." According to the Ibn Ezra, "Elo-him" is a term meant to imply a manifestation of power. A similar use is found by the rabbinical courts, which were also known as "Elo-him." They wanted the presence of a being who would represent Gd's attention to them.

The Ibn Ezra says that the people perceived Moshe as more than a human who communicated with the Divine. Moshe was a leader as the pillar of fire had been a leader for the nation as it departed Egypt.

They said, "Moshe, the man, who took us from Egypt - we don't know what has happened to him." Moshe is gone, they don't know if/when he is returning, they know he had no provisions. It would have been logical for them to have assumed Moshe was dead - by they wouldn't use the term, "dead." They were confused as to who Moshe was, and this came through in their words: "Moshe, the man," and yet, "we don't know what has happened to him," we can't say he has died, but he is not here.

This led them to come to Aharon, who had first brought Moshe to them out of the desert, and say, "Give us another manifestation of Gd's presence."


Week Six - The "Peshat" Approach, part III

One note from last week, accidentally omitted from last week's e-mail:

The people who approached Aharon (Exodus 32:1) used an interesting turn of phrase to describe the absent Moshe, in contrast with the Golden Calf they were to build. They said, "Zeh Moshe haIsh," "This Moshe, the Man, who took us out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." Therefore, "Aseh Lanu Elo-him," "Make us a representation of Divine presence and glory. In other words, "Moshe, the man, is gone. Make us an Elo-him." As we discussed last week, the people didn't know what to make of Moshe, whether man or representative of Gd. Clearly, they viewed him as something of both.

This week's Chumash class focused on the way the Ibn Ezra saw his interpretation of Aharon's role, within the Torah's account of the Golden Calf. (See last week's e-mail for the beginning of this part.)

Continuing our look at Exodus 32:1, we saw that the people seemed to credit Moshe with their removal from Egypt. This is not so strange, in light of the Ibn Ezra's interpretation. They saw Moshe as a representative of Divine power, like the pillar of fire or the cloud which led them in the desert.
Within the Ibn Ezra's view, in 32:3 all of the people gave their gold for the Calf - men, women, children, everyone. The Calf was not, in itself, a bad thing. Aharon, himself, created the Calf.

In 32:4, the hijacking of the Calf occurred. A group - Ibn Ezra does not identify them as any particular group - decided that the Calf, itself, was a powerful entity. These were the people who said "Eileh," who said, "This is who you should worship."

Aharon was now stuck - his choices were:
A. Destroy the Calf, and with it the hopes of those who wanted a representation of Gd's presence. Remember, the Ibn Ezra says that Aharon didn't know when Moshe would return.
B. Roll with the punches, and try to steer everyone back to the proper path.

In 32:5, Aharon made his call. He built an altar himself, and declared, "Party for Gd." He specifically chose a different Name for Gd, rather than use the term of "Elo-him" which had been borrowed for the Calf, to indicate that the only One to be worshipped would be Gd.

Aharon lost the gamble - the celebration turned idolatrous, in 32:6.

When Moshe came down the mountain, he destroyed the Calf. He turned to Aharon (32:21), and asked for an accounting.
Aharon responded, according to Ibn Ezra's reading: (32:22) - You know this nation; there is a group of evil people among them.
Moshe didn't absolve Aharon, entirely, of guilt - in 32:25 Moshe says that Aharon made the people wild, by giving them the opportunity to go astray and express idolatrous tendencies. A leader - as Moshe knew, already, only a year or so into his reign - must be able to anticipate where events will go.
Moshe prayed for Aharon's life, solely on the issue of this guilt. Aharon had not been involved in idolatry, and this is why Aharon was spared when the idolaters were killed.

Ibn Ezra does not explicitly address one critical point - the contrast between the Torah's account of what happened, and Aharon's account to Moshe. 32:3 says Aharon made the Calf himself; in 32:24 Aharon says that he put the gold in the fire, and the Calf "emerged."

One could suggest three possible answers:
1. Aharon had no need to say 'I made it,' as it was fairly evident. Calf-forms generally don't emerge from molten metal without some assistance.
2. Aharon omitted it in his panic. For a similar incident, see Bereishis 43:6-7, and contrast with 42:9-13.
3. Perhaps, based on what Ibn Ezra has already said, we can suggest that Aharon omitted this detail because it was of little importance. The creation of the Calf was not an issue - there was nothing wrong, inherently, with that act. The sin had nothing to do with who made the Calf; only the point of decision, and the later result, mattered.

Next week, Gd-willing, we begin our look at Rashi's view of Aharon's role in the Calf.

Mordechai Torczyner


Week 7 - The "Derash" approach

This week, we began our look at the "Derash" approach to Aharon's role in the Golden Calf.

We defined "Derash" as "analysis," in the sense that this is an approach which is willing to seize on textual anomalies and hints, and develop them into information which colors our view of a particular law or event spoken of in the Torah.

We reviewed our position on "Peshat," the straight-text approach, vs. Derash. Neither approach has an unique claim to veracity or to loyalty to "truth" or "historical accuracy."
Yes, technically, when dealing with an historical event, the story could only have happened in one way - but neither Peshat nor Derash may be assumed to be "the way" in which the event occurred. Both are based on traditions, and the Torah was given with many layers of meaning in mind, such that all of these traditions have some validity.

We selected Rashi as our example of the "Derash" approach. Rashi is actually one of the least "Derashy" of the "Derash" commentators. This makes it easier for us to see where Rashi's use of Derash emerges from the text. When one begins to use some of the more Derash-reliant commentators, the text-derivation becomes a lot more complex.

This is Rashi's overall view of what happened, in the Golden Calf event:

1. Moshe gave the people a deadline of 40 days.
2. The people miscalculated, thinking Moshe meant he would be back in the middle (noon) of Day 40.
3. The Satan aggravated the nation's confusion, by showing them an image of Moshe on a funeral bier.
4. The Erev Rav, a group of people who had joined the Jews as fair-weather-friends when the Jews left Egypt, wanted multiple gods. They felt that Gd had abandoned them.
5. The Erev Rav asked Aharon to make an idol for them.
6. Aharon tried to stall them, when he saw threats to his own life. He saw that the Erev Rav wouldn't be halted by his refusal to help them.
7. The Erev Rav actually formed the calf, themselves, and sold the idolatry idea to the nation.
We then tried to see where Rashi saw this in the Torah's verses.

We took 3 of Rashi's basic principles:
A. Moshe gave the people a 40-day time-limit
B. The Satan showed the people an image of Moshe, on a funeral bier
C. The request made of Aharon was for multiple gods

The time-limit
When learning the Ibn Ezra's approach, we pointed out that when Moshe ascended the mountain (Exodus 24:14) he did not give the people an explicit time-limit. As a matter of fact, Gd didn't say anything to Moshe about a time-limit.
Rashi based himself on one key point, and there are a couple of possible aids to this point. The key is in the Torah's report (Exodus 32:1), "And the nation saw that Moshe was late." Rashi makes a point of reading the word, "Bosheish," as "late" rather than as "taking a long time." This "lateness" indicates that there was a deadline, and it had been missed. (See Rashi's text for a further play on "Bosheish.")
There are two possible aids to this:
1. It is interesting that the people should have decided there was a problem, specifically on Day 40.
2. Aharon said, "We will celebrate for Gd tomorrow." Within this view, Aharon knew when the correct time would be. (Of course, then one ought to ask why Aharon didn't simply say, "Wait just one more day!")

The Satan's role
Here, Rashi draws on a couple of textual points.

First, we are told (Exodus 32:1) "VaYar HaAm Ki Bosheish Moshe," which is literally translated as "And the nation saw that Moshe was late." "Saw" does not have to be literally, but it could well be literal - the nation saw something, which made them think that Moshe was dead. What did they see?

Second, when the nation referred to Moshe (Exodus 32:1) they said, "Zeh Moshe haIsh," "This Moshe, the man." The word, "Zeh," is classically understood to refer not simply to "This," but to an actual pointing. For example, Moshe had difficulty picturing the Menorah for the Mishkan, and so Gd showed an image of the Menorah and said, "Zeh Maaseh haMenorah," "This is to be the form of the Menorah. There are several other examples of this in the Torah (The half-Shekel, Kosher animals, and the phases of the Moon come to mind).
The people were pointing to something - to the image they had seen. They saw something which convinced them Moshe was gone.

From there, it is a short leap to say that the Satan showed them Moshe's dead body. The Satan, according to the Talmud, is simply the agent of tests which Gd wishes to administer to people. The Satan is not acting against Gd, such a thing is impossible, within Jewish belief. The Satan is an agent; as his name suggests, he is intended to block the path, and make things difficult.

The idolatrous motive
According to Rashi, the request, "Aseh Lanu Elo-him," was a request for multiple gods. The people were afraid that Gd had abandoned them, and so they request formation of an idol which they could join with Gd, as though such a thing were possible.
Rashi reads the term "Elo-him" as an expression of divinity, whereas Ibn Ezra read it as an expression of power. More, Rashi reads it as a plural, "gods who will walk before us," rather than a "royal we," as Ibn Ezra did.

Next week, Gd-willing, we will continue with our efforts to place Rashi's understanding within the verses.


Week Eight - The "Derash" approach, part II


This week we continued our attempt to understand the sources for Rashi's view of Aharon's role in the Golden Calf.

Specifically, we tackled two points:
1. Aharon attempted to stall the nation
2. Aharon was not the one who created the actual Calf

The idea that Aharon was stalling emerges from several textual nuances:

A. 32:2 - Aharon asked the men to take the rings from their wives and children. It is clear that the men wore jewelry of their own - just look at 32:3. The fact that Aharon asked the men to bring jewelry from those who were not present indicates that he was attempting to stall.

B. 32:5 - Aharon attempted to build the altar himself, without allowing others to help.

C. 32:5 - Aharon declared a celebration for the next day, rather than that day.

The question of who built the Calf is more complex.

The verses' pronouns indicate that Aharon was the craftsman. Word-for-word translated, the Torah's account (32:3-4) reads, "And they brought [the jewelry] to Aharon. And he took it from their hands, and he formed it with a Cheret [we will approach this term later], and he made it into a molten calf, and they said..."

So who built it? It would seem that Aharon did. However, there is room for another interpretation:

The Eirev Rav
A close look at the text shows that Gd placed the blame for the Golden Calf on another party. Look at 32:7. Moshe was on the mountain, and Gd said, "Go, descend, for YOUR nation has become corrupt, who YOU took out of Egypt."

Gd always insists that He took us out of Egypt, Himself. Just look at the first of the ten commandments, as well as at numerous statements in this past week's Torah reading. Gd repeats, many times, "I took you out of Egypt."
Here, though, it seems that the responsible party is a group who Moshe took out of Egypt. Who is this?

Exodus 12:37-38 gives us a hint: "And the Children of Israel traveled from Rameses to Succos, approximately 600000 men on foot, aside from the children. Further, a mixed-in multitude ascended with them..." This "mixed-in multitude" is known, in Hebrew, as the "Eirev Rav."
This crew was not the group for whom Gd had overthrown Pharoah. This group came out because Moshe brought everyone out - they were considered "Moshe's Group." It was a group of people who did not mix in with the nation, in terms of acceptance of Torah, but only as fair-weather friends.
With Moshe gone, this group started trouble.

There are other signs that this group was the creator of the Calf. For example, in 32:4 they announced, "This is your god, Israel." Who is addressing whom? It sounds as though an outsider is addressing the Jewish people.

The Magicked Metal
Rashi also suggests another interpretation. We went into this in some length in the class, but much more is needed. In brief, this view suggests that the same piece of metal which was used to draw the casket of Joseph from the Nile, was used to produce the Calf.

This view relies on a mix of textual hints, but three key hints are:
1. The Calf was produced awfully quickly.
2. The engraving on the metal which drew Joseph from the Nile was "Come up, Ox!" It was thrown in, and out came Joseph, the "ox." Similarly, this was thrown into the oven, and out came the Calf.
3. The calf was formed with a "Cheret (32:4)." Cheret may mean many things. It may refer to an etching tool, and it may refer to a mold, but it also implies Magic. The Egyptian magicians were known as "Chartumim."

Here, then, we see that Aharon was attempting to stall, and we see the potential interpretation that Aharon was not the one who created the Calf. Next week, I hope we will conclude our analysis of Rashi's sources.

I am currently taking suggestions for our next topic. I am hoping to do another series based on a Peshat vs. Derash reading of a controversial account.

Mordechai Torczyner


Week Nine - The "Derash" Approach Part Three, and a Wrap-up

Next week is Shavuos, and the Chumash class will be pre-empted, Gd-willing, by our Parent-Child learning program on Shabbos afternoon. Caren and I expect to be away the following Shabbos. We conclude this topic this week, and hope to resume with a new topic: The Sale of Yosef.

This week, we focused on two final aspects of the "Derash" interpretation of Aharon's role:
1. Aharon's rationale for acting as he did
2. The interaction between Aharon and Moshe, on Moshe's return

Aharon's rationale
We began this segment last week, by pointing out that Aharon built the altar for the Calf himself, and that he declared a celebration for the next day rather than for that day, as an attempt to stall the nation.

It is unclear (yes, Bennett) whether Aharon knew that the people had mis-counted, or not. Rashi on Exodus 32:5 could be interpreted to mean that Aharon did not know of the miscalculation, and that he thought Moshe could still return that day.

We have pointed out (see Week 4) that Ibn Ezra rejects the possibility that Aharon was intimidated into following the idolaters and surreptitously sabotaging their plans. Rashi, though, accepts this view. He reads this into 32:5, which begins, "And Aharon saw."
What did Aharon "see?" Technically, one may read this as "And Aharon perceived;" Aharon perceived that he had lost the battle. The Midrash, though, picks up on something which is easily lost in the shuffle - the absence of any leader, other than Aharon. Moshe was on the mountain, Yehoshua was stationed partway up the mountain, Pinchas was not a national figure yet - but where was Chur? At the end of Parshas Mishpatim, Chur and Aharon were appointed, by Moshe, to lead in his absence. So what happened to Chur? After this story, Chur never again appears in the Torah.
The Midrash concludes that Chur was dead; he had, in fact, been killed by the mob for opposing them. Aharon saw that Chur was dead, and he knew that there would be nothing gained by his opposition. Therefore, Aharon cooperated.

The question was raised, as to what alternative Aharon had. It was suggested (hi, David) that he could have roused an opposing force, while the nation was gathering gold or overnight before the next day's celebration. There were only a few thousand involved in actual idolatry - couldn't Aharon have assembled people to put them down?

Several answers were suggeted; one particular suggestion (thanks, Rahmat) rings true. Aharon is known as the "Ohev Shalom veRodef Shalom," Lover of Peace and Pursuer of Peace. Rather than incite civil war, Aharon thought he might be able to solve the matter peacefully.

Aharon's stalling was defeated. In 32:6 we are told that the people "Arose early." This is an interesting contrast with the familiar story of the morning when the Torah was given. We are told that the people slept late, and Moshe had to rouse them from the camp. Here, for the Calf, they were up early.

The interaction between Aharon and Moshe
In 32:21, Moshe addresses Aharon. Without apparent knowledge of what had come before, Moshe says to Aharon, "What did they do, to cause you to bring this sin upon them?"

How did Moshe know that Aharon had been involved?

A. It was suggested (kudos to Barry) that Moshe knew Aharon's nature, and understood what Aharon would have done, faced by the mob. It was also suggested that Aharon's conciliatory nature was what led Moshe to appoint two leaders, Aharon and Chur, but one attendee (hi, Caren) responded that the dual leadership was likely simply a parallel to Moshe and Aharon's sharing of the mantle.

B. It is possible that Moshe was not blaming Aharon for his actual role; Moshe did not know whether Aharon had been involved. Rather, it was understood that Aharon was responsible, as it had occurred on his shift, with or without his personal involvement.

According to Rashi, Aharon responded (32:22-24), "Don't be angry, my master; you know that this nation follows an evil path." Aharon then seems to take responsibility, saying, "I threw the gold into the fire, and out came this Calf." He doesn't mention anything about the Eirev Rav forming the Calf.

However, Aharon also downplays his role, saying, "I said, 'Who has gold?'" That wasn't what Aharon had said. Aharon had said, "Bring the gold from your families!" He also doesn't quite take credit for the formation of the Calf - he says, "Out came the Calf."

Which is it? Perhaps the answer is altogether different - neither assuming responsibility nor denying responsibility.
Let's look at a different story from the Torah - the sale of Yosef. When Yosef told the brothers to bring Binyamin down to Egypt, Yaakov did not want them to take Binyamin. He said to them, "Why did you tell them you have a brother?" They say, "He asked us!" (Genesis 43:7)
In fact, Yosef had not asked them - they had volunteered the information. Ramban Genesis 42:4 suggests that the brothers panicked before Yaakov and Yaakov's rage, and said this in their terror. (He also suggests that the Torah might have omitted that part of the dialogue between Yosef and the brothers.)
Perhaps Aharon, in his terror at Moshe's rage (notice that he refers to Moshe as his master, and opens with "Do not be angry!"), made an abortive attempt at taking responsibility, but shrank back from the role simultaneously.

It is interesting that Moshe did not overtly express any anger at Aharon here. (In contrast, see Leviticus 10:16.) We suggested that this might have been because Moshe wanted to avoid having HaShem punish Aharon. In Deuteronomy 9, Moshe mentions that he prayed to HaShem to spare Aharon. A person who is praying for another may not bear him any animosity. As a matter of fact, a person may not lead a synagogue in prayer if there is any hatred between himself and a congregant. Moshe would not express any rage, lest this harm his efforts to defend Aharon before HaShem.

A side-issue
Along the way today, we addressed the issue of why the nation came to Aharon, in the first place.

We have pointed out, in previous discussions, that Aharon was the "king-maker." Aharon had come out of the desert with Moshe the first time, and he, perhaps, was seen as the one to bring a new one for them.

Today, we pointed out another possibility. Aharon was Moshe's second-in-command, but his was a different figure from Moshe's. Moshe intimidated, by his spiritual nature. The people shrank back from him, from his radiance and his holiness. Aharon, we are told, was always among the people. Responsible to be the leader of millions, he would take time and effort to make peace between two individuals.
The rebellious Eirev Rav wanted the mark of legitimacy, and they thought they could get it from Aharon. They approached him with force - (32:1) "And they gathered ON Aharon, and they said, "GET UP, make us a" They sought to intimidate Aharon into following along.

In the course of these past couple of months, we have seen a marked difference between the understandings arrived at by the approaches of Peshat and Derash.
They both deal with the same problem: How could Aharon have been involved in this? They come to different answers, though. Here are some highlights:

A. The cause for the nation's antsiness
1. Ibn Ezra - They thought Moshe couldn't have survived that long on the mountain
2. Rashi - Thought the deadline had passed; this was amplified by the Satan

B. Who wanted to build the Calf, and why
1. Ibn Ezra - The nation, as a replacement for Moshe as spiritual intermediary to Gd
2. Rashi - The Erev Rav, as an idol

C. Aharon's reaction to the idea
1. Ibn Ezra - Good idea
2. Rashi - Bad idea; Aharon tried to stall it until Moshe's return

D. Why Aharon went along with the idea
1. Ibn Ezra - Out of ignorance of where the idea would lead
2. Rashi - Out of good intentions

Gd-willing, in two weeks we begin the topic of The Sale of Yosef.

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