Moses went up on Mount Sinai almost four weeks ago. He had still not returned. By now almost everyone was worried that something bad had happened to Moses. Each day when Moses didn't return more people got worried and upset. Aaron and Miriam urged people not to worry because Moses would surely return in another day or two. But as the days passed and Moses didn't return many people became scared and afraid. They felt they had been left all alone in the desert. They felt abandoned by God.
An Egyptian magician named As-Samiri, who along with many other non-Jews had left Egypt with the Jewish people, started telling people that they should make an image of a God to lead them, since no one knew what had happened to that man Moses. At first very few people listened to As-Samiri but after Moses had been gone for five weeks, more and more people began to agree with him. He told people that in addition to the God of Abraham who no one could see, people need another God that they could see. "In Egypt there were paintings and statues of many different Gods both big and small. When you see the picture or statue you can feel that God is close to you" As-Samiri said.
When Miriam, the older sister of Moses and Aaron, heard what the Egyptian magician was saying she objected strongly. "The Ten Commandments forbid the Jewish people to make any statues or paintings of God. The Ten Commandments forbid us to have any God other than the God who freed us from slavery in Egypt. Don't even think about making an image of our God or of any other God. There is no other God."
One day a large crowd of people gathered around Aaron and demanded that he either tell them when Moses would return or make an image for them to follow. Aaron did not know when Moses would return. He was afraid that if he refused to make the image, the Jewish people would split into groups that would fight with each other. Or perhaps they would choose another leader if he rebuked them as directly as Miriam had done. So he decided to try and outwit them. He asked the people, "Which God shall we choose for our image?"
One man who had come to Egypt from the distant country of India said they should make an image of Krishna who was a very handsome young man with blue eyes and blue skin. Another man who had come to Egypt from Greece said they should make an image of Apollo who was the divine son of the God Zeus. Most of the people who had lived all their lives in Egypt wanted an Egyptian God. But when Aaron asked them which God they wanted for their image, they began to argue among themselves. Some wanted to make an image of Bastet the cat Goddess, while others wanted Amon the ram God. Some wanted to worship Osiris the God of the underworld, some wanted his sister Isis the Goddess of magic and others wanted their son Horus who appeared as a hawk and was the ancestor of all the Pharaohs. They argued with each other for several days while Aaron kept hoping that Moses would return. As-Samiri said the people of Israel should worship the cow Goddess Hathor who was the Goddess of music, dancing, fertility and childbirth. Hathor would save them from dying in the desert. The people were very insecure because Moses had been gone for almost six weeks now so they decided to follow As-Samiri's direction.
When they told Aaron they were going to make an image of Hathor, the cow Goddess, he again tried to outwit them. Aaron told them that the image would have to be made out of gold, and since a cow was very big they would need lots of gold. They would have to collect all the gold earrings from all the men, the women and the children in the camp so they would have enough gold to make a statue of a cow. Aaron was sure that most of the people would refuse to give up their gold earrings.
The next day a dozen baskets filled with gold rings were brought in and Aaron was surprised and saddened. Now Aaron was trapped by his own words. He asked Miriam for advice. She told him to tell the people that there was not enough gold to make a cow. There was not even enough gold to make a calf, or even half a calf. They should make a statue of Bastet because they did have enough gold to make a cat. Perhaps they would realize how stupid it was to select which God to worship based on how big a statue they could make.
Aaron did not want to say this so he told the people they could make a small calf and place it on top of a big marble base. As-Samiri, the Egyptian magician, cast the gold in a fire and formed it as the cow Goddess Hathor. He formed it hollow so it would look very big. Then As-Samiri secretly made hundreds of tiny pinholes in a line from its nose to its tail. He could see the tiny holes but no one else could. He knew that when the wind blew, the holes in the calf would make a mooing sound. When the golden calf was done Aaron stalled for one more day by saying they would celebrate with the calf the next morning.
Early the next morning thousands of people came to eat, drink, dance and even worship the golden calf. As they stood around watching to see what would happen, the wind blew and the calf made a mooing sound. "This is your God O Israel who brought you out of Egypt" shouted As-Samiri. "Bow down and worship Hathor."
"Don't do it!" shouted Miriam, "This stupid thing is just an idol." Miriam stepped forward, punched the calf on its nose, and the calf split in half.
"Half a calf is better than that dead man Moses," said As-Samiri. "Moses is never coming back and his God has abandoned you."
Just then Moses appeared on a cliff above them and told them that God would never abandon them. Sometimes they would have to wait patiently without losing faith, but God would never abandon the children of Abraham. The promise of God lasts much longer than a statue of gold or silver.
Their children's children would read about this calf for more than 120 generations. Long after Hathor and all the other Gods of Egypt were forgotten; Jews, Christians and Muslims all around the world would read about Moses and the golden calf. They would learn the lesson that faithfulness requires both trust and patience; because God will never abandon those who are faithful to Him.
Rabbi Allen S. Maller retired after serving for 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Ca. His web site is rabbimaller.com. His articles have appeared in Fountain magazine.His e-mail is mallerajaol.com