When the people saw that Moshe was late in coming down from the mountain,
the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: "Come on! Make us
gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from
the land of Egypt we don't know what has become of him."
That Moshe was late: Satan (the opposing force) came and brought confusion
into the world and showed a semblance of darkness, [even] pitch darkness,
and confusion, [as if] indicating [that] Moshe had surely died and
therefore, confusion had come upon the world. He [the Satan] said to them,
“Moshe has died, for six hours have already passed, and he has not come,
because this man Moshe: Satan showed them something resembling Moses, being
carried in the air, high above in the sky. (Rashi)because this man Moses:
Satan showed them something resembling Moses, being carried in the air, high
above in the sky. -[from Shab. 89a, Midrash Tanchuma 19]
When the people saw that Moshe was delayed in returning the most terrifying
images started to dance in their minds. Can we blame them? Moshe had been
missing for more than forty days! Sure he had led them out of Egypt but they
were now an entire nation stranded in the wilderness. They were lost without
Moshe. So what’s the crime?
Imagine an airplane gliding smoothly over the Atlantic Ocean on its way to
Israel and suddenly a rumor spreads that the pilot is dead. It was a grand
misunderstanding and their intentions seemed to be good. They wanted
something like Moshe’s leadership to take them the rest of the way. It
doesn’t sound that outrageous when understood from ground level.
Did you ever wait patiently at an appointed time on a street corner for
someone and that someone is failing to show up!? What does it feel like?
What thoughts run through your mind? Is this the right time? Is this the
right place? Is he or she OK? After a while panic may set in! What’s so
terrible that we are still picking up the pieces from the fallout of the
Golden Calf till this very day?
The answer might just be there revealed in the very words they spoke to
justify the making of the Golden Calf. Rashi based on Gemorah Sanhedrin
finds the real intent embedded in their own words:“that (they) will go
before us”: אִשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ[The word יֵלְכוּ is in the plural form.] They
desired many gods for themselves. (Rashi)
They did not want only a replacement for Moshe and in search of a creative
means to communicate with HASHEM ended up making a Golden Calf No! The harsh
reality is that deep down inside there was a part was perversely in search
mode for liberation from the pressure of living a consistent life in the
presence of a that will go before us: אִשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ [The wordיֵלְכוּ is in
the plural form.] They desired many deities for themselves. -[from Sanh.
Like a group of students who perceive that their Rebbe is late, there’s a
part of the class that appeals to a part in each boy that takes a special
delight in the thought, and even begins to hope that perhaps there will be
no class that day. So they already grant themselves premature permission to
be dismissed. When the Rebbe finally arrives they groan with a renewed
disappointment, because their heart was already sold on stupidity! The loss
of Moshe then becomes a cause for celebration and not national mourning.
That corrupt process of thinking is in fact the birthplace of idolatry.