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As I understand, the Israelites thought Moses was dead. It seems very logical that the vice-president takes the lead.

Aharon was Moses' brother, a prominent prophet, chosen by G-d, and Moses' vice.

Why didn't they ask him to lead and why he didn't offer his leadership, replacing Moses instead of the Golden Calf?

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The whole point was that Aharon was a human being and the High Priest. As a result he could not replace Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe was (in the thoughts of the Bnai Yisrael) a direct connection to Hashem, whereas Aharon was merely a human being who was being used as a method of setting up an intermediary to Hashem by performing the worship service. Aharon could no more be the leader of the nation than Moshe could be the High Priest. Their characters were suited to the positions they held, they could not perform the role of the other.

Rabbi Saks points to the pasuk in Tehillim 85:11

There is a wonderful Midrash that bears out this idea, based on the verse in Psalms 85:11 “Loving-kindness and truth meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

Loving-kindness – this refers to Aaron. Truth – this refers to Moses. Righteousness – this refers to Moses. Peace – this refers to Aaron.Shemot Rabbah 5:10

The Midrash brings proof-texts for each of these identifications, but we understand them immediately. Moses and Aaron were quite different in temperament and role. Moses was the man of truth, Aaron of peace. Without truth, there can be no vision to inspire a nation. But without internal peace, there is no nation to inspire. Aaron and Moses were both necessary. Their roles were in creative tension. Yet they worked side by side, each respecting the distinctive gift of the other.

Rav Hirsch explains on Ki Sisa 32:1

That which Aaron was to make was not to take the place of Hashem, but of Moses. They presumed that Moses had had an accident and was dead, and so they wanted Aaron to give them a "Moses" whom they could not lose.

Thus any other human being could not, in their minds, take the place of "Moses" and they would have to create a permanent replacement that could never be lost.

  • I truly appreciate your attempt but fail to follow your logic. I agree Moses was somehow different from Aharon - but how different - both were humans, they were brothers, they were prophets, G-d spoke through Aharon and did some miracles by him. Do you claim Moses was a god-like creature so unhuman only an idol could replace him? Also, does being a High Priest prevent one from leading the nation? No, many of our leaders were Kohanim. – Al Berko Feb 17 at 14:19
  • @AlBerko The last sentence you gave was the error that the people made. The problem was that the people would not accept any other human being to replace Moshe. That is why they insisted on some miraculous "being" that could not die to replace Moshe. Yes as brothers, they were both human and Aharon was connected to Hashem. However, in the eyes of the people, that was one of the reasons not to appoint Aharon. The fact that Aharon had acted as subordinate to Moshe meant that he could not be raised to the level that Moshe held (based on the erroneous concept held by the people). – sabbahillel Feb 17 at 15:22

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