PICKING ONESELF UP AGAIN: THE GOLDEN CALF

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When God finished speaking with Moses on Mt. Sinai, He gave him the two tablets that had been inscribed with His finger. According to folklore, these tablets of stone were made by God’s hand in the dusk before the first Sabbath, as Creation came to an end. The stone was like opaque sapphire, and when God handed the Tablets to Moses His Divine Radiance shone through them and illumined Moses’ face – a symbol of Enlightenment.




But every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. Even as the Divine Radiance was shining on this high level of the human soul, the low level was in revolt. “Hurry down,” the Lord said to Moses, with a telling change of pronouns, “for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely.”

It began with what the Bible calls the ‘Mixed Multitude’, at the bottom of the mountain (the ‘bottom of the soul’) while Moses was above (the highest level of the soul) receiving the Ten Commandments. These were mostly Egyptians who had fled for one reason or another with the Israelites. According to legend, many magicians and their followers, after seeing all the wonders and miracles that God performed in Egypt, asked Moses if they could convert and come with him. God advised Moses not to accept them. But Moses, being merciful (but not exercising sufficient judgment), told God that if these people saw His works every day, they would surely come to understand and accept the Lord, so he allowed them to come along.




Psychologically, these would be that multitude of negative, conflicting voices that never stop chattering and insisting on being in charge. For the Initiate, this multitude of inner personalities would include many aspects of oneself that ought to have been purged by now, but an unwise facsimile of compassion, which is really just an inner passivity and a lack of good judgment, has allowed them to remain. We all like to believe that as we are, without changing our innermost selves and actually being reborn into something completely new, we can do God’s work and ascend to Heaven. The story of the golden calf shows the futility of this, and the need for an inner ruthlessness.

When Moses had not returned by the morning of the fortieth day, the ‘mixed multitude’ came to Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt – we do not know what has happened to him.” They wanted an idol, an Egyptian-type god that they could see and touch all the time, who would be their new leader. When Hur, who had been appointed by Moses as joint leader with Aaron, reminded them of all the blessings that God had bestowed upon them, they killed him. They then threatened Aaron that if he did not make them an idol they would kill him too.




The Bible reports that Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” According to folklore, he was stalling for time. He did not fear for his life, but he did fear that if the people slew their priest and prophet, God might never forgive them. So he tried to slow down the horror that was brewing, hoping that either it would subside by itself, or Moses would return in time to prevent any more sin.

He knew that if he asked the men who were confronting him to give him their own gold earrings, they would do so immediately. So he told them instead to go and get the needed gold from their wives and children, hoping that the women would refuse to give up their jewelry for something so foolish, and hopefully that would put an end to the matter. The women did indeed refuse, but when the men realized this, they tore off their own earrings, which they wore in the Egyptian fashion, and brought these to Aaron. The Bible states, “This he took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf.” When the mixed multitude saw it, they exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”


Now they wanted to build an altar for the calf, but Aaron, stalling again, said it would be more fitting if he, the priest, built it himself: he still was hoping that Moses would appear in the meantime. So he began building the altar alone, and he said, as reported in the Bible, “Tomorrow shall be a festival of the Lord!” The idolaters misunderstood of Whom he was speaking. But early the next day Moses had still not returned, and people brought burnt offerings to the altar. They ate and drank and began to dance. 




This is when God said to Moses, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely.” God’s use of the term ‘your people’, may be indicating the ‘mixed multitude’ that Moses had insisted on bringing along against God’s advice. Or it may indicate that He is disowning the Israelites. The Lord continued, “I see that this is a stiff-necked people. Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.” But Moses implored Him not to destroy them, but to remember His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to forgive them. “And the Lord renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon His people.”

When Moses took hold of the opaque sapphire Tablets, as we have seen, God’s radiance shone through the Tablets upon his face. This radiance ought to have passed through him and continued on down to illuminate and enlighten the entire soul as it stood on the ‘mountain’ connecting the divine level of ‘Heaven’ with the material level of ‘Earth’. In fact, it is said in the Kabbalah that at this moment Moses had re-achieved the divine state of immortality that had been lost in the Garden of Eden. But now it was immediately lost again.    




In scriptural code, we know that ‘Egypt’ does not refer to an actual geographic country, and ‘Egyptians’ are not actual people from that country. These are symbols which denote our own inner enslavement to the physical world of material desire. The story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is an allegory of the soul rising beyond this enslavement-to-matter and the tyranny of the ego (represented by Pharaoh). Now in the story, the ascension up Mount Sinai, and Moses’ communion with God, means that the soul has returned to the state of purity in which Adam and Eve were first created.

But impatience, lack of trust, and fear, are all still possible even at this high level of Being, and again the lower aspect of the Serpent (through the ‘Mixed Multitude’) asserts itself, leading some of the people (the Emotions) to fall back into the worship of materiality (the golden calf), while the Mind remains passive (like Aaron, who merely tries to ‘buy time’ and hopes that Moses will come back and do something). The soul is thus collapsing back down to its comfort zone where it can ‘sleep’ in peace, and only the unseen prayers and supplications of Moses prevent its complete demise.




And so, it must all begin again. On the journey of the soul, as in all of life, there will be times when we fall and have to pick ourselves up and start again.

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