One set of tablets destroyed. One golden idol melted down. Another 40 days and 40 nights until Moses descended with a new set of tablets and God’s forgiveness. It was the 10th of Tishrei.
We celebrated this day (and this most compassionate act on behalf of the Divine) yesterday on Yom Kippur. Yet the memory of the original tragedy remains vivid in our collective memory. We were forgiven, but Torah makes it clear: we should never forget.
The experiences on that horrible day varied though. Midrash teaches that the Israelite women refused to participate in the initial idolatry. A modern, creative take on what may have occurred:
“Moses had been gone so many days I had begun to lose count. His presence had become reassuring out here in the open of the wilderness where insecurity lurked behind thorny shrubs…like a snake ready to snap at a young antelope newly emerged from the womb.
And when Moses ran late, when the mountain path stood empty of human presence, fear bit. The morning the men met, the women huddled around the cooking pots stirring soups and rumors. “Maybe he was killed,” “maybe he returned to Egypt,” “maybe it was all a lie,” until we were frothy with doubt and nerves. At full boil the men circled us. Father came to me, tears in his eyes. He asked I remove the gold from my ears. He laid out his hand, his stiff fingers calling to the metal pierced through my lobes. I looked to my mother, beautifully adorned, who asked why. “Why?” father answered, “because Aaron told us to! He told us to make a god that will watch over us always, a god that lives here on earth, not in some mountain. A god we can see.”
Mother’s hands stayed on her ladle. She made no reach for her ears. I too stayed still. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t ready to give up. I had seen God here on earth. I watched the waters part, I saw the thunder and the lightning.
The other men began to shout. Clamoring erupted within the camp as husbands demanded gold of their wives, daughters and sons. But like Mother and I, they would not hand it over. We then heard women’s shouts of pain as the gold was ripped from their bodies, tearing flesh from their lobes. Our donations to this heresy were not voluntary. We had no choice.”
Rabbi Mara Young serves Woodlands Community Temple in Greenburgh, NY.