This week’s confluence of the Olympic Games and Valentine’s Day means many more people than usual will probably have gold on their minds. While gold is not the most expensive precious metal, it is the most desired. Throughout history, it has caused madness and strife and has brought out the natural human proclivity for greed. Notwithstanding, gold is often seen as the symbol of both romance and success.
It is not surprising that a great deal of gold was used in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the temporary dwelling place for the Divine Presence in the wilderness. The use of gold was regarded as an elevation of the precious metal, a means, perhaps, to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf.
The story of the Golden Calf is a fascinating one that, when read without the oral tradition, leaves one with more questions than answers. Why did the Israelites want an idol? How could the people doubt God so soon after their experience at Mount Sinai?
One of the most frequently asked questions regarding this event is how could Aaron have agreed to fashion the calf? The description of events in Exodus 32 suggest that as soon as the people asked Aaron to make for them an idol like they had in Egypt, he complied. However, the oral Torah explains that his response, “Remove the golden earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters and bring them [[the earrings] to me” (Exodus 32:2), was actually a stalling tactic. According to the Midrash Tanchuma, Aaron expected that the women and children would refuse to hand over their precious jewelry and the issue would be delayed. According to this Midrash, however, those who requested the idol didn’t bother to ask their families but promptly took out all the gold that they had upon themselves and forced Aaron, under threat of violence, to create the idol.
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