Moses has spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai. Down below, the people are restless. They demand Aaron, Moses’s brother, does something; they want a god to worship, so Aaron, presumably playing for time, asks for the people’s gold. They give it to him; he throws it in a furnace and a golden calf emerges.
One rabbinic commentary suggests that this strange and unholy miracle happened because of the actions of a misbehaving child, Micah, who is saved from slavery in Egypt – although he shouldn’t have been. We’ve told our story from the perspective of Talia, an eleven-year-old who is watching on.
This waiting around for Moses was getting ridiculous. Every day, the people assembled in the centre of the camp and kvetched. “What can he be up to – it’s been over a month?” said one. “I’m worried he needs food,” added a typical Jewish mother. My Grandma was the worst. She was 96 and didn’t think she had much time left. “Can’t we just head to the Promised Land without him? I don’t want to end my days hanging around in the desert.” She was trying to persuade a group of people to #leavealready.
This particular morning the crowd was particularly noisy. Maybe there was news? I climbed above the crowd to see what was going on. Aaron was trying to calm everyone down. Apparently, he had promised to make the people an idol – that didn’t sound at all right – and everyone was thrusting their gold in his direction. He was throwing necklaces, chains and earrings into a pot suspended over a roaring fire. The pot was bubbling away, but there was no sign of an idol.
Then I noticed Micah pushing himself towards Aaron. I never trusted Micah; he seemed to hate the idea of having a god who didn’t have a physical form. Micah was pushing his way through the crowd, and he was chanting, “Arise ox, arise” – weird.
The people parted around him as he barged forward. Pushing Aaron out of his way, he pulled a shard of pottery and held it high above his head. With a last cry of ‘Arise ox,’ he threw the shard into the cauldron. And then he laughed. The cauldron belched, smoke rose and this golden calf ascended high above the flames. The people around bowed low, Aaron looked appalled. And Micah just laughed.
Follow up questions:
Is Micah being evil, mischievous or playful? What’s the difference between the three types of behaviour?
In the rabbinic tradition, Moses saves Micah from dying in Egypt even though God tell Moses this particular child should be left behind. Could you have left a child behind if God told you to? Do you think Moses made the right decision?
God is furious with the people for worshipping a golden calf. God wants to destroy the entire people, but Moses calms God down, partly by getting one tribe, the Levis, to kill some of the perpetrators. Does God overreact? Is Moses right to use the Levis this way? What would you have done in this situation?
An Angel Called Truth, by Rabbi Jeremy Gordon and Emma Parlons and illustrated by Pete Williamson, can be ordered from anangelcalledtruth.com