The overhead sun prickled the toes peeking out of the rabbi’s sandals. He spurned as a male called out his name. The rabbi knew the baritone voice as that belonging to one of the tribe leaders’. A nine year old boy was at the feet of the caller both with grimaces like they hadn’t feasted for a month when it had just been three days.
“The people are complaining.”
The rabbi nodded. It had been three days since the moving dwellers pitched tent in the lowland bordering the sacred mountain where the prophet presently stood. The practice was abstinence from food and the likes till the prophet returned with commandments from Jehovah. Then, they would offer worship and feast. There was no guarantee that the prophet was still alive, much more determining if he had the instructions they so much sought.
The dwellers were in a desert, with food and water barely enough to keep them till they reached another inhabited land. The prophet would meet with the Lord, with fasting, before the people could proceed.
A hand tugged at his robe. It was the lad of his sister. The boy cast pleading eyes into that of the rabbi. The rabbi heard him say, “When can we eat?” though his lips remained shut. Forlorn, the rabbi moved to a serene portion of the camp where his sister was just returning from visiting one of the families. The situation was symmetrical. They wanted to eat. They were spent with waiting for the prophet.
Not investing much moments in deliberating with his sister, the rabbi gathered the people and together and required their golden adornments. The pile of it came forth rapidly. Taking the jewelries, the rabbi created a calf which the people worshipped. Every thought of rebellion he might have nursed vanished with the rejoicing of the people. Surely, the prophet and the Lord would reason with him.
The case took on a twist, however, when the prophet returned with face blazing. The blazing face wasn’t strange, the intensity was. He was satisfied not with the rabbi’s explanation but ordered the people into two camps. Camp one was for those on the Lord’s side, the other consisting of everyone else. Then, the inevitable happened as the rabbi watched on.
Three thousand died in that day.
The rabbi wasn’t pleading his innocence – he was aware of his guilt, the weight of his act and how the Lord despised idolatry. His plea that had no approach to be voiced was this: If you were in his place, what would you do?
After-word: This story is from Exodus 32, the chapter of Aaron and the golden calf. I do not purpose to paint Aaron in the image of a justified rabbi or Moses as the uncompassionate prophet. Just my words, perusing if I would have done different if I was the rabbi. The word says, “God gives grace to the humble.” It’s worth noting that this was the era of laws, not grace. The law was our schoolmaster, says Paul in Galatians 3:24. And schoolmasters in our understanding could be harsh. But they ultimately know the best.
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In His service, Michael Emmanuel.