Aaron: No Punishment for the Gold Calf?

Dick: I have, many times, read the account of Aaron being left in charge of the Jews when Moses went up the mountain to meet with G-d.  In many places in Torah there are accounts of G-d’s disappointment with the people for their chasing after idols and false man-made gods.  Yet, Aaron apparently permitted, or at least turned a blind eye to the people as they manufactured and then worshiped the golden calf...a throwback to one of the gods of the Egyptians.  

There is not a word of punishment, retribution or irritation toward Aaron by either Moses or G-d.  Why?  It seems to me from what is said in Torah, though Moses was angry with the people, Aaron, after abdicating his leadership duties, got off scott-free.  

What am I missing?

Rabbi: Sforno answers your question. Aaron did not make the Gold Calf; he intended on delaying the people on many fronts. When the people asked for a new "Elohim" (leader of sorts) Aaron asked for their gold, as he didn't think they would so readily part with their gold. He had cast the gold into the fire to delay them again, as he had no utensils with which to form the gold. Despite his efforts to avert their grave sin, "they" forged the calf on their own. Additionally, Aaron tells Moses on his descent from Sinai, responding to Moses' alarm at the situation, "...you know that these people are evil". Now, had Aaron been the one who created the calf, his statement would make no sense. He was condemning the idol construction. had Aaron made it, it would come out, and he would appear as a fool before his brother for attempting to cats the blame on the Jews. But the Jews in fact created the Gold Calf, not Aaron. So although he "appeared" to have started the process (collecting & melting gold) it was the people who actually made the calf. Thus, Aaron was innocent.

Copyright: Protected by Torah?

Rabbi: The Torah describes violations of theft in terms of confiscating objects of value. 

Doug: What about intellectual property, like unauthorized use of an idea, CD duplication or forging paintings and selling them? Does Torah law prohibit unauthorized use in these acts too? If so, what is the violation?

Rabbi: The answer is "falsehood". The Torah teaches that one must not lie: "From a falsehood distance yourself". (Exod. 23:7) Therefore, if one were to sell as his own, prints of a painting that he counterfeited from another artist, he is violating that law, as he falsely presents the reprints as his own. If one were to reproduce books in the same lying manner, again he violates lying. The next question would be how we assess the damages, if someone violates these cases. Additionally, copyright infringement is an American law, and the Torah commands Jews to adhere to the "law of the land" in monetary matters.

Josh: I assume that if someone did the opposite (wrote a book and attributed it to another author), he would be violating the same prohibition against "falsehood". What about the case where one reprints and sells coyprighted books, but gives full credit to the correct author? He is not lying, but he is violating U.S. copyright laws.

Rabbi: Here too he lies, as he represents himself as the true book salesman.


A recent email from About.Judaism.com read as follows: 

"Craigslist is one of those places where you can find just about anything and, according to the "wanted" listing submitted to the site yesterday, one family jokingly hopes that a rabbi trained in the dark arts is among the many resources to be found:

"Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM: WANTED: One Rabbi versed in the Dark Talmudic Arts to create one Golem for household of three. Golem will perform rudimentary household chores such as dishes & sweeping, basic Math Tutoring for our daughter in 3rd grade and basic household security. Golem must be obedient and..."

Rabbi: We all enjoy a good laugh, and I enjoyed this one. But I also felt this an opportunity to address a foolish idea we have not yet dealt with on Mesora, which many Jews still accept as fact. 

People love to get mystical. But if we adhere to our Torah leaders - not our unlearned peers - we find a pleasing, rational approach to all areas, including "golem". This terms is typically and ignorantly understood to refer to a soulless human. An impossibility. What do our great Rabbis say about golem?  Pirkei Avos addresses this:

"Seven matters are stated in reference to a golem, and seven in relation to a wise man. A wise man does not speak before one greater in wisdom; he doesn't interrupt his friend's discussions; he is not excitedly quick to respond;  he inquires and responds intelligently, and he answers [orderly] on the first matter first, and the last matter [asked] he responds last. And on what he has not heard, he says "I have not heard about this". And he admits to truth. 

The opposite is true in all cases regarding a golem." (Avos; chap. 5)

According to our Torah leaders, a golem is a person who is arrogant, driven by emotion, cannot order his thoughts, is not truthful, and speaks before thinking. A golem is not a soulless lump of clay created by man. 



Dov: What is your understanding of Rabbi Bachya’s view on predetermination, as he sets forth in Duties of the Heart[1]? He clearly states that there seemingly conflicting Torah verses. Some verses appear to describe all man’s actions as guided by God; others appear to support the view of free will. 


Rabbi: I read through the sources. Rabbi Bachya actually concludes that man is ignorant of how to make sense of both, 1) predetermination and  2) justice, i.e., freewill and reward and punishment. He says this on page 327.  But let’s review the verses cited in support of both views. In support of predetermination, Rabbi Bachya cites the following verses:


“Whatever God did He willed, in heaven and on Earth” (Tehillim 135:6)

“God puts to death and brings to life; He casts down into the grave and raises up; God makes poor and makes rich, He brings low, He also exalts” (Shmuel I, 2:6,7)

“Who has spoken and it has come to pass, unless God has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?” (Eicha, 3:37,38)

“I form light and I create darkness, I make peace and create evil.” (Yeshayahu, 45:7)

“Unless God builds a house, its builders toil in vain on it. Unless God watches over a city, the watchman stays on alert in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and stay up late, you who eat the bread of anxious toil; for He grants sleep to His beloved.” (Tehillim, 127:1,2)



In support of freewill and justice, we need not mention the many Torah verses that warn us to act a certain way, lest we are punished; and if we act properly, that we are rewarded. Thus, we are granted the free will to choose. Otherwise, the Torah’s warnings make no sense. Furthermore, we sense in ourselves that nothing coerces our choices. So how can we understand those verses above that seem to contradict free will? The resolution is as follows.


The verses above do not address man’s free will, but events and situations: wealth, poverty, life, death, good, evil, plans, and accomplishments.  These verses all teach that if God does or does not desire a certain event or outcome, man has no say about it. However, this in no way means God interferes with our free will. An example would be a man desirous of building a house that God does not want built. God will not interfere with the man’s free will, but God has many ways of eliminating the possibility of the house being built: He can cause the building material shipment to be rerouted, the man to fall sick, and so on. 


We conclude that predetermination is about events and situations, but not about man’s choices. 

[1] Pages 318-326, Feldheim pocket hardcover edition, 1999