Thursday, March 16, 2006

parshat kî ṯiśśāʾ: If you read only one thing on the parsha this week...

If you read only one thing on the parsha this week, it should be Ibn Ezra on the egel, the golden calf. (And you should read it inside, rather than relying on my partial discussion, which also strays to add other interesting points.) He does his usual masterful job, taking on the classic midrashic approaches in order to put forth what he considers peshat.

In this instance, he presents a defense of Aharon based on the text - not for the purpose of apologetics, or hagiography, but because it makes for good peshat.

While the Golden Calf certainly was not a shining moment in our history, and we see that many people were punished for the sin, we do not see Aharon being punished for this sin. Indeed, when Aharon dies, a sin is listed: {Bemidbar 20:24}:
כד יֵאָסֵף אַהֲרֹן, אֶל-עַמָּיו, כִּי לֹא יָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--עַל אֲשֶׁר-מְרִיתֶם אֶת-פִּי, לְמֵי מְרִיבָה. 24 'Aaron shall be gathered unto his people; for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against My word at the waters of Meribah.
And if he really did a great sin by constructing the golden calf, we would have expected that to be mentioned.

Furthermore, Hashem honors him after this. He and his children are perpetual priests in the service of Hashem, which seems strange if he did such a great sin. Furthermore, other prophecies are directed to him. Also, if Moshe commands the sons of Levi to kill those guilty in the sin of the golden calf, even if they be brothers, he should have to kill his own brother, or else look quite hypocritical.

Furthermore, Aharon defends himself to Moshe shortly thereafter. We need to make sense of the words his defense.

These and other factors suggest that as a matter of peshat, what Aharon did was not so bad. This is strange, since if worship of the calf is bad, certainly constructing it, and building an altar for it (if that is what he did) should be.

Thus, a defense of Aharon need not be looked at as apologetics, but rather simply a means of obtaining peshat, and Ibn Ezra is a pashtan par excellence.

(BTW, there are two accounts of the egel in close proximity - one in the initial narrative, and the second shortly thereafter, in Aharon's defense of his actions to Moshe. In arriving at peshat, or derash, one should compare and contrast these two. Perhaps read the entirely of Shemot 32 first, so as to see what Ibn Ezra is talking about.)

Ibn Ezra first sets out on the task of rejecting several midrashic explanations of the event. Some of these are interesting in there own right.

For example, Ibn Ezra rejects as nonsense an explanation that this was a different fellow named Aharon who constructed the golden calf!

Ibn Ezra also rejects the suggestion that he did this because he "saw" (see וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן in Shemot 32:5) them kill Chur. After all, this would make him less of a man than Chur, or than Daniel's friends who were willing to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than worship an idol. He also rejects suggestions that he was thus saving the nation from the sin of killing him, for which there would be no going back. He should have stood up to the nation as Moshe did when he returned.

He rejects the interpretation that he was just throwing the gold into the cauldron and did not know that evildoers had tricked him, putting the mold for a calf in there, for that would make Aharon foolish. He rejects the interpretation that when Aharon says חַג לַה' מָחָר, he means that there will punishment for this, in the slaughter of all the sinners.

Read it all in detail, for it offers good details of some interesting defenses, and one can then then see how they arise from the text. Obviously, Ibn Ezra rejects them, and the process of their rejection as peshat is also quite interesting.

Ibn Ezra explains that there was a difference between what the people asked of Aharon and what Aharon did, on the one hand, and what some of the people (about 3000 of them) did subsequently on the other hand.

Moshe disappeared for 40 days and 40 nights, and had not told the people at all when he would return. The people asked Aharon for a replacement for Moshe, and this is what Aharon agreed to do. They said קוּם עֲשֵׂה-לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ--כִּי-זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה-הָיָה לוֹ. The word אֱלֹהִים means not a god, but something that will lead the way for them, directed by God. (And indeed, אֱלֹהִים on occassion does mean things other than "god.") Aharon then deliberately constructed a Golden Calf.

However, some people (those killed by the Levites) then turned around and declared this their god, saying אֵלֶּה אֱלֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלוּךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. Aharon, meanwhile, tried to rally people to the service of Hashem, building an altar to Hashem, and declared a festival to as the pasuk says explicitly - וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו; וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמַר, חַג לַה' מָחָר.

Thus, idolatry was not intended by Aharon, or even by the majority of the Israelites -- only by a minority of the Israelites, who were killed.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin