Parshat KiTisa 5783: Aaron’s Read on the Situation, His Actions Regarding the Chet HaEigel, and Why Moshe’s Anger with Him was Mistaken

Shalom Friends;

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat KiTisa 5783: Aaron’s Read on the Situation, His Actions Regarding the Chet HaEigel, and Why Moshe’s Anger with Him was Mistaken

by Moshe Burt

Once again, this author loves to replay this oft-repeated parody on NFL Football as it relates to Hashem, Moshe and the sin of the golden calf (the eigel zahav):

Imagine yourself as an American football quarterback. it’s the BIG game — Superbowl 57, the fourth quarter of a nail-biter with both teams tied, two minutes left and the game threatening to go into overtime.

Your team emerges out of the huddle (huddle: the eleven players on offense in a circle as the quarterback pronounces the next play) and the quarterback stands over the center, or in “shotgun” formation a few yards behind center, and calls signals.

The quarterback studies the defensive formation and suddenly audibles: Noun. Also called automatic, checkoff. Football. A play called at the line of scrimmage to supersede the play originally agreed upon as the result of a change in strategy [or, as football fans and experts observe; during the play itself, dependent upon what the quarterback sees as the alignment of the defense at the line of scrimmage, or the tendencies of the defensive positions during the play]. He changes up on the play called in the huddle. No, we’re not talkin’ about the “Philly Special,” rather the Superbowl 57 (2022-23) version.

Now, think back to Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu atop Har Sinai. What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s summary of Parshat Ki Tisa in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, page 257):

Hashem speaking to Moshe on the summit of Mount Sinai, issues commandments concerning:

An indirect census to be taken of Am Yisrael’s males, twenty years and over, through individual contributions of half shekels;

The creation of the laver [Liyor: wash basin], the anointment oil and the incense to be used in association with the Sanctuary [Mishkan];

The appointment of Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur and Oholaiv ben Achisamach to supervise the construction of the Mishkan;

Shabbos Observance.

At the conclusion of these directives, Hashem presents Moshe with the two Tablets of Testimony inscribed with the Asseret HaDivrot (the Ten Declarations).

Meanwhile, at the foot of Har Sinai, the Jews grow uneasy with Moshe’s prolonged absence. They turn to Aaron and demand: “Rise up, make for us gods who will go before us, for Moshe — this man who brought us out of the land of Mitzrayim — we do not know what has become of him!”

Aaron instructs the people to contribute their gold earrings, which he fashions into a molten calf. He then declares, “A festival for the Lord tomorrow!” The Jews rise early the next morning to celebrate. Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posukim 5-6)

Suddenly, amidst Hashem’s teaching of Torah to Moshe, HaKadosh Borchu, in American football terms, calls an audible. Returning to the excerpt from the Parshat Ki Tisa summary, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin summarizes Hashem’s reaction to B’nei Yisrael and the egel zahav (the golden calf) in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” (ibid, pages 257-258):

Hashem informs Moshe, who is still on the summit of Har Sinai, of the sin… perpetrated at its base. Hashem threatens the nation with immediate extinction, relenting only in response to Moshe’s impassioned pleas.

Moshe descends the mountain with the Tablets of Testimony [the Asseret HaDivrot]. When he sees the revelry… in the camp of B’nei Yisrael, …he throws the tablets from his hands in anger, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. Moshe then burns the calf, grinds its remains into powder which he sprinkles into the water and forces the B’nei Yisrael to drink, takes Aaron to task for his involvement in the sin and directs the Levi’im (who rally to his side) to execute those most directly involved in the transgression.

The point of this vort is an explanation of Aaron’s understanding of the situation he faced and why he acted as he did, and why Moshe’s anger with him was misdirected.

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash renders to English Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posuk 21), provides citings from Rashi, Ramban, S’forno, Or HaChaim, Oznaim HaTorah (ibid, page 499) and explains Aaron’s response (posukim 22-23, pages 499-500) :

“Moshe said to Aaron. “What did this people do to you that you brought a grievous sin upon it?”

Moshe turned to Aaron, appalled that Aaron could have brought such a calamity upon the people. “What suffering did they impose on you to force you to do it to them?” (Rashi) “What did they do to cause you to hate them so that you did this to them? (Ramban) “Granted that you may have had no choice but to make the Eigel, but the worst part of the sin was that they rejoiced with it, and that happened because you proclaimed a festival. (vol.6) Why did you have to compound the sin by causing them to celebrate it?” (S’forno) “Granted that — because you were making an idol for others, not yourself — you were not required to die rather than to comply, but still, to make an idol is liable to lashes. How could you have done it?” (Or HaChaim) “Your sin against Hashem is given to repentance and atonement, but you were also guilty of a sin against the people; only they can forgive you for that.” (Oznaim HaTorah)

The Sochaczever Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, z”l cites Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posukim 22-24, cites Rashi and explains “Aaron’s Rationale,” in his sefer “Shem Mishmuel” Rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski (pages 195-197) :

“Don’t be angry my lord, You know this people, for they follow a wicked path. They said to me, ‘make for us powers which will go before us. As for this man Moshe, who brought us up from Egypt, we don’t know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, rip it off and give it to me.’ Then I cast it into the fire, and this calf emerged.”

Then I cast it into the fire — and I didn’t know that this calf would emerge. (Shem Mishmuel citing Rashi)

…We need to closely examine the root cause of Klal Yisrael’s original demand for the calf. We may assume that Aaron penetrated the depths of their consciousness and responded accordingly. Aaron realized that the problem was caused by the absence of Moshe. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Moshe was to keep the Klal as a unified entity, preventing it from splitting into factions… His loss, however temporary, threw the nascent [adjective: beginning to exist or develop] nation into disarray. They rapidly became a rabble of individuals, rather than a cohesive unit. They managed to hold themselves together for the forty days during which Moshe had promised to be absent, but now, when they thought that the time had elapsed and that he was gone forever, their ability to continue without a unified force collapsed.

Aaron, as Moshe’s surrogate [noun: a person appointed to act for another; deputy], had to address this issue when the confused… people stood before him to request an alternative leadership. Aaron assumed that if he could tackle the problem at its root, then the… demands… would disappear. They would then be comforted by some alternative means of unifying them and would return to their homes to await what he knew to be Moshe’s imminent arrival. Aaron attempted to effect this through a physical act — a community-wide project which would unify the people. So he asked them all to contribute gold, which he intended to melt into one large ingot. This, apart from involving them all in one activity, would symbolize the cure to their problem — each individual personality, represented by each item of jewelry, would be merged into one community, represented by a single ingot.

When the Torah describes the manufacture of the calf, we learn: “All of the people ripped off the gold rings in their noses, and they brought them to Aaron. And he took from their hands…” (Shem Mishmuel renders to English Sefer Shemos, Perek 32, posukim 3-4)

Aaron was the ideal person to affect this aim, for his very essence yearned to bring together estranged parties, to create unity on a local and communal level.

But it all went horribly wrong. and we saw, the calf emerged from the fire, to Aaron’s complete surprise and undoubted horror. This disaster was caused by the involvement of the eirev rav — the so-called mixed multitude of non-Jewish hangers-on who joined Klal Yisrael at the time of the Yetziyot Mitzrayim. ,,,When an alien group is added to a distinct group, the result is not the group plus the outsider but complete ruin for the group. This is what happened to Aaron’s plan.

…The mistake that Aaron made — he took the gold directly from the hands of the troublemakers. This was infused with their wicked, self-oriented aims and was thus able to pervert the objective which Aaron had intended…

Not only was Aaron not criticized for his role in the eigel, but he was actually rewarded; for he only got involved to delay them until Moshe came back. Hashem said to him, “Aaron, I know your true intention. By your life, I shall set none other than you over the offerings of My children…” (Shem Mishmuel citing Shemos Rabbah 37:2)

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin renders to English Sefer Shemos Perek 32, posuk 2 and cites Daas Zekainim in providing additional insight into Aaron’s actions and intentions in his sefer, “Growth Through Torah” (pages 221-222) :

“And Aaron said to them, remove the golden earrings which are on the ears of your wives, sons, and daughters, and bring them to me.” (Sefer Shemos Perek 32, posuk 2)

Daas Zekainim explains that Aaron’s intentions were for the sake of Shemayim. This is what he said to himself: “Now that Moshe has not returned, if I appoint Koleiv or Nachshon as the leader in Moshe’s absence, when Moshe returns they will not be eager to give up their position of leadership and this will cause a major quarrel. If I do not appoint anyone as a leader, they will choose a leader themselves and this will also cause a major quarrel. If I will make myself the leader until Moshe returns, when he comes back, perhaps he will feel that I tried to usurp his leadership. Therefore, until Moshe returns I will keep them busy with talk… The women will be reluctant to give up their jewelry and therefore, I will be able to stall for time.” (Rabbi Pliskin citing Daas Zekainim)

At first glance, when one reads this verse might wonder how Aaron could have possibly taken an action that appears to be a form of idolatry, But when we see his real intentions we see that he sincerely tried to avoid doing things that could be problematic. This is a lesson in judging others favorably…. Before condemning someone for his behavior, ask yourself, “What positive motivations an intentions could he possibly have had?”

Rabbi Goldin provides a final word in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, page 281) :

When all is said and done, the issue of Aaron’s involvement in the chet ha’eigel is one of those cases where the questions are better than the answers. In such circumstances we are challenged to continue the search for understanding — even as we acknowledge that we may never know the “real truth” until Hashem sees fit to reveal it.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.