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Shemot 32:1 says

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him.”

Rashi (referring to Sanhedrin 63a) comments

They wished to have many gods

while Ramban argues they really only wanted one replacement God.

How can the Ramban disagree with Rashi regarding Israel's desire to have many gods, when Rashi is quoting a Gemara?

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    Welcome to MiYodeya Joe. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Consider editing your answer to add more background on the pasuk and the opinions from Rashi and Ramban. Readers shouldn't have to search for texts to answer - a great question is as complete as you can make it. Welcome again and great to have you learn with us! – mbloch Jun 7 '18 at 4:56
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    Actually maybe what I am asking is hard for a new user, so I took the liberty to build on your question. You can edit further or roll back my edits to your first version – mbloch Jun 7 '18 at 5:03
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    @JoeL Is there really any question here between Rashi and Ramban? We know that the people who came against Aharon & Chur at this time were the Erev Rav (part of the nation of Israel per Moshe's wish). They are people from many different backgrounds. Some were Egyptians, but many were different peoples who had been enslaved by Egypt. Each one was advocating for their god to be the replacement. They (the group) wanted many gods. But each individual want one, their own. Rashi and Ramban are not disagreeing, only emphasizing different points. – Yaacov Deane Jun 7 '18 at 16:54
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Ramban himself explains why he feels it is acceptable to argue against Chazal (the Sages of the Mishnah and Gemara) when explaining the simple meaning (p'shat) of a verse in the Torah.

In his comments to Bereishit 8:4, he writes that is permissible for him to explain some of the details of the flood story differently to Rashi, whose explanation there follows the approach of Bereishit Rabbah.

The key line is:

כיון שרש"י מדקדק במקומות אחרי מדרשי ההגדות וטורח לבאר פשטי המקרא הרשה אותנו לעשות כן כי שבעים פנים לתורה ומדרשים רבים חלוקים בדברי החכמים

Since Rashi often asks pointed questions against aggadic midrashim and troubles himself to explain the simple meaning of the text, he has allowed us to do the same [here]. For there are seventy faces to the Torah, and many midrashim that present arguments within the words of the Sages.

So we see that Ramban believes that it is perfectly acceptable to present a different p'shat-approach, which is in opposition to an explanation of Chazal. There are a large number of possible, acceptable interpretations of a verse. Chazal picking one of them does not preclude him from preferring another.

Thus, it should not be surprising that Ramban is willing to explain the sin of the Golden Calf somewhat differently to the way it was explained by Chazal (and Rashi).

  • Is there really any question here between Rashi and Ramban? We know that the people who came against Aharon & Chur were the Erev Rav. They are people from many different backgrounds. Each one was advocating for their god to be the replacement. They (the group) wanted many gods. But each individual want one, their own. – Yaacov Deane Jun 7 '18 at 16:07

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