The most infamous sin of the Jewish people was the sin of the Golden Calf: When God presented the People of Israel with the Ten Commandments, the people were overwhelmed at hearing the Divine voice. They asked Moses to interact with God in their place. Moses then went up to Mount Sinai for 40 days to receive the complete Torah. The Jewish people miscalculated how long Moses had been gone. Thinking it was already the 41st day, they panicked. Assuming that Moses was dead, they demanded that Aaron, Moses’ brother, create an idol for them that would become their new leader. Aaron, under threat of death, created the Golden Calf.
This, of course is the general overview of the story. But a full and careful reading tells a slightly different story. Not all of the Jewish people worshiped the Calf. In fact, it is understood from Exodus 32:26-28, where Moses instructs the Levites to slay every man involved in the idol worship, that only 3,000 men (out of 600,000) were involved.
So what’s the big fuss? If only a small portion of the Jewish people worshiped the Golden Calf, and the few rebels were killed by the Levites, why did God strike the people with a plague because they had “made the Calf that Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35)? Moreover, why does God note in Exodus 32:34 that whenever the Jewish people would sin in the future, they would receive some element of the punishment they deserved but were not given at the time of the Golden Calf?
Not all of the Jewish people worshiped the Golden Calf, but they also did not try to stop the sinners. Looking the other way may be a passive, but it is an action nonetheless. Not standing up to proclaim their faith in God and Moses is the great sin that marked the Jewish nation forever.
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