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WHO DONE IT?

by Rabbi Elie Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

King Solomon, in verse six of the first chapter of his Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) writes, "do not gaze at me condescendingly that I am quite black, for the sun has scorched me. The sons of my mother have incited me; they placed me as a watcher of the vineyards.

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King Solomon, in verse six of the first chapter of his Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) writes, "do not gaze at me condescendingly that I am quite black, for the sun has scorched me. The sons of my mother have incited me; they placed me as a watcher of the vineyards. My vineyard I have not watched." Rashi, the classic and popular 11th century French commentator, explains the verse allegorically. It refers to Israel's plea to the other nations of the world that they should understand that she (Israel) is not intrinsically evil. Even though she has been scorched through the sin of the Golden Calf, it was only because she had been incited to do so by the eruv rav (mixed multitude) of Egyptians who joined Israel as she left Egypt. (See Exodus 12:38)

This explanation presented by Israel to the nations that it "wasn't our fault" seems to be incongruent with the actual account of the sin of the Golden Calf in our Torah portion, Ki Tissa. Aaron, Moses' brother, tries to stall the making of an idol by asking that the men bring the earrings of their wives and children. Instead, the men removed their own earrings and brought them to Aaron. On that verse (Exodus 32:3), Rashi, seemingly cryptically, comments, "When they took [the rings] from their ears, it turned out that they were removed from their rings." These words of Rashi, which appear to be a riddle, can really be understood quite simply. The word used in the Torah to describe the men's removal of their earrings is vayitparku. This word, in fact, does not mean "and they removed"; it means "and they removed themselves." (This is due to the reflexive form in Hebrew grammar.) The Torah is not telling us that they removed their rings from their ears. It is stating that they removed themselves from their rings. Why does the Torah choose such an awkward way to record this event? The following is a possible approach: The men were so eager to make the Golden Calf that they wanted to immediately give the rings to Aaron. There was, however, one problem: the rings were still attached to their ears. They had to remove themselves from their rings, as if they viewed their bodies to be mere obstacles preventing the building of the idol.

This interpretation, though, paints a very different picture from that presented to us in Shir Hashirim. Our Torah portion describes a group of people in a zealous frenzy to worship a Golden Calf. In the Song of Songs, the verse implies that the mixed multitude were the movers and shakers of this grave sin.

The reconciliation of these two accounts emerges from the words of Rashi himself in his commentary to another verse in our Torah portion. Once this Golden Calf was built, the Torah states in Exodus 32:8, "And they said, 'this is your god, Israel.'" Rashi comments that the words "your god, Israel" suggest that some people other than Israel are speaking to Israel. This "other people" is, Rashi continues, the mixed multitude. According to Rashi, the Children of Israel were not involved with the Golden Calf at all until after the mixed multitude had it built and presented it to them. This being the case, it was the men of the mixed multitude who gave their earrings to Aaron. They were the ones with the enthusiasm. It was this mixed multitude who instigated the sin of the Golden Calf.

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Rabbi Elie Cohen, who lived in Atlanta, is currently studying at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

You are invited to read more Ki Tissa articles.

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