The central event of this week’s parasha is the sin of the Golden Calf. Frightened that their leader, Moses, is lost on Mount Sinai, the Israelites assembled before Moses’ brother, Aaron, and demanded that he make them a god who would lead them in the desert. Aaron acceded to their request, collected gold rings from all the people, cast the gold into a burning fire, and out came an idol the people proclaimed as a god.
As a friend of mine in Texas once remarked, this incident must be the first recorded case in human history of “Mad Calf Disease.”
Only a short time before, the people witnessed God’s saving power when God rescued them from Egypt. A few months later, gathered at the base of Mt Sinai, they heard the words of the 10 Commandments and the people responded, “We will do and we will obey!”
How sad when fear causes people to abandon their beliefs. How tragic when core principles are perverted by anxiety and mob mentality.
Aaron failed a primary test of leadership when he acquiesced to the demand for an idol. A leader must not only listen to the calls of the people, but must be willing to confront their demands when they violate a people’s core principles. A leader must have backbone and be willing to suggest alternative actions, even when it is not the popular thing to do. This is true for every kind of leader, whatever communal position he or she holds.
Previously published on February 22, 2008