The Lesson of the Golden Calf

by Anna Sklyarsky

There’s a lot of debate happening in this country right now about the proper balance of religious subjects being taught in public schools.  Evolution was not allowed to be taught until laws like the Butler Act were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1968 (Epperson v. Arkansas) under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. (For more information on what the Establishment Clause was meant to protect visit:  Now, some citizens want Creationism taught to children in public schools, others argue that it ought not to even be a state’s right to put forth such a subject.  No matter what your own religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are, the lessons found in the Torah or Old Testament (and in parts of the Quran that share the same stories) are valuable tools that might give us some insight into time-tested truths.

The story of the “Golden Calf” is found in Exodus and a similar version is found in the Quran as well.  It is said that before Moses went up Mount Sinai, he told the ISraelites that he would stay with G-d for forty days.  On the 40th day after his leave, the Isrealites thought Moses was suppose to come back. This is because they thought Moses was to return on the 40th day, when in fact, Moses said that he’ll return after 40 full days and nights, meaning that he’ll return on the 41st day. Stricken with panic at the thought of being without their leader, the Israelites fell into the practices of the Egyptians – idolatry. Now the Israelites knew there was a One True G-d, because He had just performed all these amazing miracles for them – the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, etc. Why did they so quickly fall into the previous religious practices (of the Egyptians) that they knew were untrue and were the practices of their slave masters? Some scholars believe that the Israelites were so overcome with fear that they dreamed that Moses had died. Perhaps it was because they were so dependent on Moses to lead them; that they thought being without him even for one day would be the end of them. The void they felt without the presence of Moses was so great, that they quickly let their emotions take over their reason and asked Aaron (Moses’s brother) to make them a golden calf. This proved to be the point of their demise for they were punished by Moses, through Levi, when 3,000 men were executed and later by G-d who forced them to wander the desert for 40 years. The construction of the golden calf needed gold, so the people (men and women) gave their earrings to Aaron for him to make their new god, an idol to worship. When Moses came back down from the mountain, he destroyed the two tablets with the holy Ten Commandments because the Isrealites were not worthy/holy enough to receive them and punished the wicked by forcing them to drink the ashes of the burnt golden calf.

So what can we learn from this story today? How does it apply in modern times? Well some scholars feel that the golden calf represents “wealth.” The “adoration of wealth” moral instills a contempt towards greed, towards money and riches, as though they are somehow inherently evil. I disagree. I believe that it is what the golden calf represents that is the evil – it represented a loss of faith in G-d and in his leader, Moses.  By the actions of giving up their earrings, they hoped to be saved by this new god, the golden calf. Instead of remaining true to their One G-d and relying on His Presence, they quickly jumped on the “next best thing” – idols.  Well we don’t have idols today, not like the golden calf at least, but we do have another “idol” that we “worship” (rely heavily upon) and that’s government.  The Israelites’ giving of their earrings/wealth is symbolic of people today willingly (meaning without much protest) giving their money to the government in the hopes that the government will make their lives all better.  This doesn’t mean that governments shouldn’t exist or that governments shouldn’t collect taxes. What it does mean is that the reliance on the government through our taxes, our wealth, should not be as strong as it is now.

The lesson is this: when you give up of your property for the purpose of relying on government to do fix our own mistakes, you get nothing but a painful remedy. Just as the Israelites miscalculated when Moses was going to come back, so too now do many of us misconstrue what the realities are today. Yes, there’s a lot of people who don’t have jobs or those who do have jobs that aren’t covering all the bills. Yes, there are a lot of elderly people that need money to survive because they don’t/can’t work. Yes, we have expensive medical procedures. Yes, our educational system is failing our children. And so on and so on. The world looks very grim. BUT, we have to stop relying on the government (and specifically the Federal government) to fix all these social problems. That has never, in the history of mankind, worked and it won’t now. Our spending is out of control and it’s not the solution. The solution is to let the states, let the communities, let the houses of worship and let the families do what’s best for themselves.  Scaling back government has worked in the past and it will work today. Let’s start relying on our faiths, on the faith we have in mankind, and on the faith that any of us is and can be a Moses, a leader.


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