The sin of the worship of the golden calf is central to Jewish history and the impact of that sin on the history of the Jewish people cannot be overstated. To begin with, the only reason that the descendants of Levi, the Levites, are included in the priestly class is because of the golden calf. We know from history, Torah and tradition that the tribe of Levi was the only one that did not participate in the sin of the golden calf. It was supposed to be the first born of every family that was to serve. Because of the sin of the golden calf, God set aside the tribe of Levi to serve because they were the only ones not to defile themselves with idolatry.
This figures into a great deal of Jewish history. The sages tell us that if the sin of the golden calf had not happened, that the redemption and rectification of the world would have taken place at Sinai. In fact, they say, that without this sin, we would have had no need for any books beyond the Torah; no prophets, no judges, no writings of the scripture. Without this idolatry, everything would have been remade or rectified right then.
The sin of the golden calf is far reaching in the its effect on the Jewish community. Even when we see Isaiah having his vision of the Lord, and winged creatures above, we are told that they creatures with two wings cover their faces and with two wings cover their feet. The sages say that the reason they cover their feet is that these particular angelic beings have feet that resemble the feet of calves. The intention is so that they don’t remind humanity of the sin of the golden calf.
There is an odd verse in Numbers Chapter 8, verse 7 where it says that the entire bodies of these Levite priests must be shaved from head to toe. Why this odd ritual? Rashi, or Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi, was a medieval french Rabbi who not only interpreted Torah but studied the writings of other Rabbis as well. Rashi tells us that he found in the writings of Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan that it is because idol worship is known as sacrifices to the dead and metzorah, a leper, is also a word for the dead. Because of this, and the sin of the golden calf, they must do the same as the leper must do. Part of the purification ritual for the leper is this head to toe shaving. So you see, there is a connection between idol worship and the dead and the leper as the dead, these things coincide.
This shows us that the golden calf has many and deep roots in Judaism, that there are many ways to rectify that original sin. Nothing in the Torah comes out of nowhere, nothing is accidental or coincidental. If there is something in the Torah we don’t understand, it is usually because we don’t understand the background or the context.
Keep digging. It is really good for us to study, to dig deep. Enjoy the study of God’s word – the study of Torah. I recommend, as our yeshiva does, that you begin with Rashi who is a master o the peshat, or the plain meaning of the Hebrew text. Once you spend about a year with Rashi, you will be ready to delve into other and deeper things.
Shalom and Kol Tuv
For information on the study of messianic Judaism, please click on the link on this website for the course availability. It is intended for those coming from a background of Christianity.