Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Golden Calf

Last night we had another Torah session. The section continues to outline the specifics of the sanctuary God wants Moses to build. But meanwhile, down the mountain, Aaron is apparently being terrorized by the impatient people, who have given up on Moses coming back down from the mountain. Moses spends an extra day with God, and the people decide he isn't coming back. They need a concrete emblem of the deity to worship. The thing is, if they could have waited one more day, that's exactly what God was hammering out with Moses in the form of the Tent of Meeting.
A member of the group commented that God seems so surprised that the people could do this. Yet God is supposed to be all-knowing; plus, God made these people in God's own image. Shouldn't this be old news? We discussed the conundrum of free will, which is always interesting to think about, and the way that Moses so deftly keeps God from snuffing the people out by appealing to God's desire to maintain a good image among other nations. How would it look if God were to save these people, only to wipe them all out down the road? God doesn't put up an argument. Yet instead of God wrecking havoc among the Israelites, it turns out that Moses does it.
First Moses "hurls" the tablets that God had written out. Some commentators, we were told, claim that he doesn't so much throw them in anger as drop them because God's words have flown back to their source, leaving the sheer weight of the matter that encased them so heavy that Moses can't carry it anymore. But in any case, Moses has to hew out new tablets himself for the second, more complete edition of the Torah. The shards of the old are encased in the Ark of the Covenant.
Then, feeling the same threat Aaron had felt from the mob he meets below, Moses sics the Levites on them, and they engage in a killing spree, murdering thousands of their own kinsmen; meanwhile, Moses melts down the calf, making the people drink the resulting brew. The passage that follows is interesting for its ambiguity. The Levites now either will be rewarded or will have to atone for their action. In any case, it isn't enough to prevent a plague that God sends down to punish the rowdy group for their misdeeds.
We noted that Moses and God often seem to be twins, or at least alter egos. They both can be cruel and capricious in similar ways.


Lou said...

At the bottom of that impatience and doubt, must have been fear. Moses' punishment seems so huge.

Robbi said...

I think he was hugely angry that he couldn't maintain power over them, that he wasn't the priest and he had to defer to Aaron. He couldn't strike back at God, so he struck at his people. But he was also afraid of the mobs and the political schisms he saw among his own tribe. He struck back before someone got him first, I wager.

marly said...

Reminds me of how one knows, knows, knows the thing that a child is going to do but should not: it still bursts like a bomb when he does.

Robbi said...

That's exactly how I saw it... it was God being parental.