Post: Aharon forms the eigel hazahav for the benei Yisrael, and he announcing a chag laHashem machar. But is he really a willing participant in this whole ordeal?
Exodus 32:5Emphasis my own. I take exception to the last paragraph in particular, which appears to be the goal and conclusion of the post. My peshat-sense is not that this is the plain intention of the verse. And further, that is not what was really bothering these ancient interpreters.
וַיַּ֣רְא אַהֲרֹ֔ן וַיִּ֥בֶן מִזְבֵּ֖חַ לְפָנָ֑יו וַיִּקְרָ֤א אַֽהֲרֹן֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר חַ֥ג לַיהוָ֖ה מָחָֽר׃
And when Aaron saw it he built an altar before it and Aaron made proclamation and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD
Saw it? What did he see?
According to the ancient interpreters, what he saw was the murder of his nephew Hur. (I don't recall where this first appears, but believe its in the apocrypha. TPJ and TN both have it) Another possibly, also suggested by an ancient interpreter (again, I forget who) is that he saw the angry mob.
Both possibilities are cleverly captured in the Peshita, where it says not that Aaron saw, but that he was afraid (In Hebrew the words are the same.)
All of these explanations are needed; without them the verse tells us that "Aaron saw the golden calf and built an alter [sic]." This reading, though the plain intention of the verse, was untenable to the ancient interpreters who could not tolerate the idea that Aaron might have built the altar of his own volition.
Midrash Rabba offers up the Chur explanation:
אותה שעה עמד עליהם חור, ואמר להם: קציעי צואריא, אין אתם נזכרים מה נסים עשה לכם הקב"ה! מיד, עמדו עליו והרגוהו.It seems to me that the midrash is being sensitive (correctly or incorrectly) to the implications of vayakhel al. Yes, parshat Vayakhel begins with Vayakhel, but that is Moshe causing them to gather. But where do we see gathering upon, or against someone? Besides in this parsha, we have:
נכנסו על אהרן, שנאמר: ויקהל העם על אהרן, ואמרו לו: כשם שעשינו לזה כך אנו עושים לך, כיון שראה אהרן כך נתיירא, שנאמר: (שמות לב) וירא אהרן ויבן מזבח לפניו.
במדבר פרק טז
where some opposition and negative feeling may be implied. We have:
מלכים א פרק יב
This is gathering to wage war. We have them seizing Yirmeyahu to kill him:
וַיְהִי כְּכַלּוֹת יִרְמְיָהוּ, לְדַבֵּר אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה, לְדַבֵּר, אֶל-כָּל-הָעָם; וַיִּתְפְּשׂוּ אֹתוֹ הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַנְּבִיאִים, וְכָל-הָעָם לֵאמֹר--מוֹת תָּמוּת. מַדּוּעַ נִבֵּיתָ בְשֵׁם-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר, כְּשִׁלוֹ יִהְיֶה הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה, וְהָעִיר הַזֹּאת תֶּחֱרַב, מֵאֵין יוֹשֵׁב; וַיִּקָּהֵל כָּל-הָעָם אֶל-יִרְמְיָהוּ, בְּבֵית יְהוָה וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַנְּבִאִים, וְכָל-הָעָם, אֶת-יִרְמְיָהוּ, מְדַבֵּר אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּבֵית יְהוָה.
and another instance to wage war:
דברי הימים ב פרק יא
There are a couple more that don't carry these implication, but vayakhel al does seem to carry the implications. And that sets the stage.
The midrash also mentions nityarei, so indeed, the see/fear switchoff is a strong possibility.
Midrash does not always whitewash characters. It does seem to be the case that where there is grey, the midrash will color it either black or white, depending on the overall picture of the character. But at the same time, the midrash picks up on what is ambiguous, and picks up minor textual cues and brings theme to the fore.
We should consider whether Aharon really was an actor in all these proceedings. The pesukim in question, from Ki Sisa:
It does not really make sense that he would do this because he saw the golden calf. He had constructed this calf himself, and so why would he react to seeing the calf. Further, why interject with the people's designating it. Further, I would have expected the transitive וירא, with a definite article, if he saw an object. Rather, he perceived the situation. And that is why, for peshat reasons, the JPS translation (above) says that he saw this, not that he saw it. (This is the point I expanded upon in a comment at DovBear.)
Aharon is certainly not a leader here. But he seems to be reacting to the nation. And we see from many other instances that the people are ready to challenge and storm Moshe and Aharon, such that they were even afraid of being stoned. Here, this was a reaction to Moshe's delay, a disappointment, and we see how the people got in cases of disappointment. It may well be that Aharon felt threatened or intimidated by all this.
Indeed, a bit later in the same perek, Moshe asks Aharon why he did this, and Aharon answered that it is the people's fault, and that he merely went along.
Thus, in the very same perek, we get Aharon's defense. And that defense includes
While quickly researching this, I noticed that while the text local to parashas Ki Sisa does not contain a great condemnation of Aharon, in the Samaritan Torah, we have a transferred statement that Hashem is furious with Aharon:
This is the regular harmonizing tendency of the Samaritan Torah.
This interjection is lifted from Devarim 9, in Moshe's speech and summary of the incident:
According to this, Aharon was also in danger from Hashem's wrath. Apparently, he did something very wrong. But there are two ways of learning peshat. One is each sefer, and parasha, on its own, to achieve the best local peshat, and the other is to harmonize and/or learn from the implications of various places in order to obtain an optimal global peshat. Both methods have their value, I think.
Rashi elaborates, in parashat Ekev, there:
|And with Aaron, the Lord was very furious: Because he listened to you.||ובאהרן התאנף ה': לפי ששמע לכם:|
|to destroy him: This refers to the destruction of [his] children. Similarly, it states, “And I destroyed his fruit [i.e., children] from above” (Amos 2:9). - [Pesikta Rabbathi, Acharei Moth]||להשמידו: זה כלוי בנים. וכן הוא אומר (עמוס ב, ט) ואשמיד פריו ממעל:|
|so I prayed also for Aaron: And my prayer succeeded to atone for half, thus [only] two [of his sons] died, and two remained [alive].||ואתפלל גם בעד אהרן: והועילה תפלתי לכפר מחצה, ומתו שנים ונשארו השנים:|
That is, yes, Hashem was furious with him. But that should not be taken to imply an extremely proactive role. He reacted; he listened to you.
I am not convinced that this is Rashi unable to contemplate the idea of Aharon sinning of his own volition. Rather, it quite plausibly is Rashi reacting to the implications of several Biblical verses in parashat Ki Sisa.