“They have turned aside quickly from the way which I commanded them” Exodus 32:8
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The sin of the Golden Calf presents us with difficulties on two levels. How were the people, inspired by the events of the Red Sea and Sinai, capable of becoming idol worshippers? What is perhaps more puzzling, however, is the manner and the speed of the transformation which overwhelmed them. Why so quickly? Temptation was no sooner presented than they succumbed. Not for them the slippery slide into wrongdoing which befalls most who are ensnared by the “evil inclination”.
Ibn Ezra answers the first question by suggesting that the calf was nothing more than a figurehead substitute for their leader Moses who they believed had died on Sinai. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, on the other hand, accepts that idolatry may have been its original purpose. However, he reminds us that to expect the Jews to disengage themselves completely from the cumulative effect of centuries of exposure to a society which saw deities in tangible form was to demand the impossible.
Disengage they did however, at least sufficiently for the Torah to emphasise its surprise at the speed of their fall. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that the transformation of change for an individual or a people can only be sustained if inspirational moments are allowed to be pondered and internalised over an extensive period. The Jews of the Exodus never allowed this to happen.
The maidservants who were inspired by the spectacle of the miracle of the Red Sea to surpass the prophetic powers of Ezekiel allowed those delectable moments to pass without being absorbed and retained. Thus they remained maidservants and not prophetesses.
Inspirational moments will remain just moments unless they are converted to a legacy of permanent influence through sustained spiritual growth.