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The Ramban to Shemos 32:7 explains that there were multiple tiers of sinners in the golden calf episode, all of whom had different intentions of varying degrees of infraction, but that it was the majority of the nation that sinned: אמר השם למשה כי עשו שתים רעות האחת כי שחת עמך וענין ההשחתה הריסת בנין... השני כי עשו עגל מסכה והשתחוו לו ויזבחו לו והנה ...


The Ramban says that Moshe's intention was that the substance used for idolotry should end up vomited or defecated out, further humiliating it. But he also quotes the Talmud's reason as brought in Rashi approvingly. In terms of Rashi's answer, of course the primary similarity is the drinking of water to bring out something that is otherwise unknowable ...


Rashi is saying that in this instance they followed Moshe even though it didn't make sense. That is why the verse emphasizes that they did it - they did it despite the fact that it wasn't reasonable. They didn't always behave that way, in fact right afterwards (v. 11) in this very story.


The Golden Calf icon seems to be associated with Hashem. Aharon, Jeroboam, and Jehu (all of whom create or, in Jehu's case, do not destroy, calf-idols) never mention any other god in connection with their actions. In fact they all present themselves as worshiping Hashem, albeit in a way that the Torah disproves of.


Many commentaries go case-by-case through each of the "terrible mistakes" of the Jews in the desert and explain how they are not as terrible as they seem. For example, by the sin of the Golden Calf, the Ramban explains (32:1) that they did not want to create an idol to serve, but rather to appoint a new leader, a Moshe replacement, to lead them now that ...


Sifsei Chachamim, the commentary on Rash"i expands on this idea stating that one who defiles himself by following idolatry is compared to a woman "hidden" from her husband (my loose translation - I may be a bit off). Sifseu Chachamim ends by saying "as stated in the Midrash", but he doesn't say which one. He also cross-ref's Rashi's comment on averse from ...

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