Before Moses asks Aaron what he did, the narrative account of the Golden Calf's creation is that Aaron asked for gold, received the gold, "and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf".

When Moses questions Aaron, he says of the gold, "and I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf."

What is going on here?

  • The word מַסֵּכָה, which you translate as "molten," would preclude the capacity to engrave it - can you engrave a liquid? This paradox seems to be the source of the midrash that Aharon did indeed throw the idol into the fire, but Micha threw in the tablet used by Moshe to raise Yosef's coffin from the Nile. The power of that inscription ("Arise, Ox," a reference to Yaakov's blessing of Yosef) is what brought forth the molten calf. Feb 29, 2016 at 21:00
  • @IsaacKotlicky where is this Midrash cited?
    – DanF
    Feb 29, 2016 at 21:29
  • this question only makes sense according to the second understanding cited by rashi: fashioned it with an engraving tool: Heb. וַיָּצַר אֹתוֹ בַּחֶרֶט. This [clause] can be rendered in two ways: One is [that] וַיָָּצַר is an expression of tying, and בַּחֶרֶט is an expression meaning a kerchief, similar to “and the tablecloths and the purses (וְהַחִרִיטִים) ” (Isa. 3:22); “and he tied two talents of silver in two purses (חִרִטִים) ” (II Kings 5:23).
    – rosends
    Feb 29, 2016 at 21:48
  • The second [way of rendering it] is [that] וַיָּצַר is an expression meaning a form, and בַּחֶרֶט is the tool of the smiths, with which they cut out and engrave (חוֹרְטִין) forms in gold. [The tool is] like a scribe’s stylus, which engraves letters on tablets and wax-covered tablets, as “and inscribe on it with a common pen (בְּחֶרֶט אֱנוֹשׁ) ” (Isa. 8:1). This [second interpretation] is what Onkelos rendered: וְצַר יָתֵיהּ בְּזִיפָא, an expression of זִיוּף, a tool with which people engrave letters and designs, known in French as nielle, niello work. With it, signets are engraved.
    – rosends
    Feb 29, 2016 at 21:48
  • 1
    @DanF the aleh shor medrash is cited in the next Rashi on 32:4 chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9893#showrashi=true
    – rosends
    Feb 29, 2016 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


Rav Hirsch explains Ki Sisa 32:24 as meaning that Aharon did not try to explain all the details of the event and that he had tried to delay the Jewish people unsuccessfully. He glosses over his attempts to prolong the actual work and tries to skip over the murder of Chur and his own danger had he completely refused.

How great Aharon show himself in this reply! Not a word to justify himself, does not mention the circumstances of which we know, which would serve to modify his guilt. Nothing of the overwhelming threatening mob - וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן - nothing of his attempts to use the vanity of the women as a means of delay - nothing of his laborious work of engraving and modeling to postpone the completion of the work as long as possible - nothing of all this. He will not adduce any reason for the mitigation of his own guilt which would increase the guilt of the people. He takes practically the whole guilt on his own shoulders, accuses himself of the most listless weakness.

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