Judaism is a 3000 plus year old faith and our sages have been considering, commenting, and debating its details and meaning for all that time. We inherit a vast treasure of ideas and opinions from those who have gone before. As such, it’s actually very hard for a rabbi to come up with an insight that someone else hasn’t thought up before.
But here’s mine. Or at least in the voluminous storehouse of rabbinic commentary I have never come across this interpretation anywhere else.
This week’s Torah portion relates the story of the Golden Calf. Parashat Ki Tisa is usually taken to be an account of how the Israelites broke faith with God and worshiped an idol made of gold. The portion begins: And when the people saw that Moses was so long on the mountain they went to Aaron and said, Make us (an) elohim to go before us for that man Moses we do not know what has happened to him. The Hebrew word elohim can mean God, gods (as in false or pagan gods) or actually just someone in authority ( as when God says to Moses, ‘Aaron will be your spokesman but you will be an elohim to him)
It could be that the people were just asking Aaron to appoint a temporary leader given Moses’ continuing absence from the Israelite camp. But Aaron misunderstood or better assumed that he understood what the people were asking for. They wanted an elohim, a leader and he thought they wanted an elohim, a new God. Assuming his interpretation of their request was correct and never checking the accuracy of his interpretation Aaron told the people to bring him their gold and the next thing you know events were spiraling out of control.
There is certainly more to the Golden Calf story than my little insight but in part this interpretation warns us to be very cautious when we assume we know with certainty what other people mean or intend by their thoughts, words or deeds. Especially in close family relations, we are prone to think that we KNOW when in actuality there is the real possibility that we are making up a meaning never intended.
The warning signs that we are going down this path are the words ‘obviously’ and ‘clearly’. Obviously she meant… Clearly his intent was…
Be on guard for these signals that alert us to the truth that while we may think we know exactly what others mean or intend, we can always be wrong. Misunderstandings have a nasty habit of escalating, and the next thing you know people are dancing around a golden calf.