According to Biblical tradition after the Israelites were liberated from bondage of the Pharoah of Egypt they arrived at Mt. Sinai where the first and only mass revelation of the Almighty Creator of the world occurred. The mountain was shrouded in thick smoke and fire blazed as the voice of the Almighty uttered the Decalogue (or 10 Commandments). The people feared for their lives and begged Moses to go up to the mountain and act as an intermediary between themselves and this awesome manifestation of the Creator. So Moses went up the mountain where it is believed the rest of the Torah (or first 5 books of the Bible) were communicated to him over the course of 40 days.
Apparently it only took 40 days for this awesome revelation to be forgotten and the Israelites demanded Moses’ brother Aaron to create a new God for them. So all the gold was collected and the Golden Calf appeared. It’s amazing how quickly the people turned to a new god after witnessing the awesome power of the Creator. When Moses came down from the mountain he was outraged at the idolatry, destroyed the tablets and ordered the execution of thousands before going back up the mountain to beg for forgiveness and receive the Torah again.
It is very unlikely that this Biblical Account is based on an actual event that occurred. To be totally honest, it doesn’t have to be based on a true event to teach a very important message. The Bible is a highly allegorical book with veiled teachings and very little of it should be taken literally. It has been a long tradition, that still exists to this day, to teach lessons – especially ones about life and morality – using stories (or parables). This is why Rabbis and scholars have studied the Bible so much for thousands of years.
So, let’s look at this allegorically and with a touch of rationalism.
Why on earth would people who had just witnessed the undeniable revelation of the Almighty start worshiping a Golden Calf? Surely if you or I had witnessed something like this we would never had resorted to the worship of an inanimate object, right?
The Golden Calf is still around today and is worshiped by more people than any other god that has ever been worshiped. In fact, at one point in time everyone reading this (myself included) has worshiped the Golden Calf. Not the physical one, but what it actually represents.
Gold = wealth, money, power
Calf = food, sustenance, possessions
Combine the 2 and you have the formula for the root of all evil – greed.
So what’s the lesson?
We should not think that the world revolves around us. That our problems are bigger than someone else’s. That we are more deserving than someone else to have a bigger house or a larger income. That personal wealth makes us better than our friends. The thought that the person who works at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s is any less of a person than the CEO of a major corporation is detestable and immoral. The Golden Calf represents the dangers of people relying on the physical things to make themselves happy or to calculate their worth. It’s not what’s in your bank account that defines you, it’s what’s in your heart and your mind.
In addition to not valuing the physical and monetary is the necessity to revere God. God, is not a tyrant and not an anthropomorphic judgemental deity. God, in the simplest of terms, is the essence of life and the origin of love and morality.
The lesson is to value life and to love one another and that morality really matters. To accept the fact that there is something beyond our comprehension that enables life and weaves together the fabric of time and space. That nothing we gather in life goes with us when we die. So rather than focus all our energy on ourselves, we should focus it more on those around us.
Beware the Golden Calf.