A Mirror in Time: Unveiling the True Story of the Golden Calf and Heeding Future Warnings

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The article you are about to read draws upon a diverse array of Jewish texts, including various Midrashim, the Tanakh, and their connections throughout the Torah. It poses an intriguing question: Was Joseph, his twelve brothers, and Jacob “the golden calf”? This is a question worth pondering.

In further examination of historical records and scriptures, an undeniable parallel emerges. Of particular interest is a Midrash Talpiot, which foretells a future event – the time of the ultimate redemption. In this prophecy, it is mentioned that three men will employ magical arts to resurrect the dead, cure the crippled, among other feats, and 80,000 Jews will be led astray, following these men.

It is my fervent hope that we do not witness a repeat of the golden calf incident. It is essential to remember our love and reverence for our spiritual leaders, be they Rebbes or Rabbis, but our primary focus must remain on Hashem. Without the Almighty, redemption remains elusive, leaving us only with continued suffering and turmoil on earth.

The Story of the Golden Calf

When God manifested Himself on Mount Sinai, all of Israel erupted in a song of jubilation to the Lord. Their faith in God at that moment was unparalleled, reminiscent only of the faith they would exhibit in the time of the Mashiach (Messiah). The angels celebrated alongside Israel, yet God Himself was somber, His voice emerging from the depths of darkness, symbolizing His grief. The angels questioned God’s sorrow, to which He replied, “You do not know what the future will bring.” God foresaw that in forty days, Israel would defy His commandment against idolatry, leading them to worship Joseph (metaphorically the Golden Calf).

This act of worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf) had dire consequences for Israel, surpassing the repercussions of their other transgressions. God intended to grant eternal life to the nation that embraced the Torah, and thus, upon accepting it, Israel triumphed over the Angel of Death. The Torah was their shield against mortality. However, they relinquished this gift when they turned to worship Joseph. As a result, they were destined to study the Torah amidst suffering, bondage, and continual unrest, awaiting redemption in the Messianic era and the world to come. The worship of Joseph (the Golden Calf) remains a part of Israel’s collective sorrow, a portion of every affliction they face tracing back to this sin.

The decision to worship Joseph (the Golden Calf), especially during the time Moses was receiving the Torah, seems incongruous. Moses had promised to return with the Torah after forty days. However, on the fortieth day, “the Satan,” through a deceitful vision, convinced the people of Moses’ death, showing them an image of him lifeless between heaven and earth. In despair, they sought a new form of divine connection.

Led by the magicians Jannes and Jambres, they approached Aaron, demanding a god like the ones the Egyptians worshipped. Hur, appointed by Moses as a leader in his absence, tried to dissuade them but was killed for his resistance. Fearing a greater sin if he refused them, Aaron acquiesced to their demands. To delay, he asked for the ornaments of their wives and children, hoping their refusal would avert the creation of the idol. However, the men willingly offered their own earrings.

The idol of Joseph only came to life due to Aaron’s inadvertent inclusion of a magical silver leaf with the image of the bull. This leaf, forgotten after being used to recover Joseph’s coffin from the Nile, had mystical properties that animated the gold and silver. Upon witnessing the animated idol, the mixed multitude that had joined Israel proclaimed it as their god. Even manna, provided by God, was used in offerings to these idols.

Israel’s fixation on the oxen image among the Celestial Throne’s beings, particularly noted during their passage through the Red Sea, influenced their decision to worship Joseph. They erroneously believed the oxen played a role in their exodus from Egypt. Aaron attempted to delay the construction of an altar for worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf), hoping for Moses’ return. However, his efforts were in vain, and the people began their idolatrous sacrifices and revelries.

In this atmosphere of misguided reverence, the idolatry of worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf) became deeply entrenched among the people. The transformation of the twelve tribes into individual representations of Joseph’s brothers and Jacob as “one for all Israel” was a stark deviation from the truth. The Shedim, supernatural entities from another dimension, were invoked through sorcery using smokeless fire, giving the illusion that these idols were the patriarchs. This was not a resurrection of the dead but a deceptive manipulation, portraying Joseph and his family as divine figures.

This act of idolatry was not merely a sin against God; it was a betrayal of the very essence of their divine covenant. The Torah, given to Israel as a testament of their unique relationship with God, was now overshadowed by their worship of false deities. The Shedim, masquerading as Joseph and his brothers, led Israel astray, severing their connection with the true divine will.

The narrative of Moses, as he descended from Mount Sinai, is particularly poignant. Bearing the tablets of the Law, Moses was a figure of divine truth and commitment. Yet, he descended to witness his people, whom he had led out of Egypt, succumbing to the lowest form of idolatry. The impact of this moment is profound, illustrating the fragility of faith and the ease with which people can be swayed from their spiritual path.

The consequences of this idolatry were far-reaching. Israel, once destined to conquer death through their adherence to the Torah, now faced mortality once again. Their spiritual journey became marred by hardship and exile, a constant reminder of their transgression. The Torah, their source of life and wisdom, became a symbol of their failure, studied amidst suffering and longing for redemption.

The idolatry of worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf) symbolized more than just a lapse in faith; it represented a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s nature and intentions. God, who had demonstrated His power and compassion through the miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea, was now replaced in the hearts of the people by a creation of their own hands. This shift in devotion from the Creator to the created marked a pivotal point in Israel’s spiritual history.

In the midst of this turmoil, Aaron’s role is complex. His intention to delay the creation of the idol and his hope for Moses’ return reveal his inner conflict. He was caught between his duty to lead and his desire to protect his people from themselves. Aaron’s actions, though well-intentioned, ultimately contributed to the sin of idolatry, illustrating the delicate balance of leadership and the consequences of compromise.

As the story progresses, it becomes evident that the worship of Joseph was more than a momentary lapse; it was a reflection of a deeper spiritual crisis within Israel. Their desire to see and touch a physical representation of their deity, influenced by their time in Egypt, highlighted their struggle to embrace a form of worship that was abstract and based on faith alone.

The narrative concludes with Israel entrenched in their idolatry, yet it also foreshadows the hope of redemption. The story of the idolatry of worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf), serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of idolatry and the importance of unwavering faith in God. It reminds us that true devotion lies not in the physical representations of our beliefs but in our steadfast commitment to the principles and teachings of our faith.

Reflecting Upon The Story

In reflecting upon this story, we are reminded of the enduring lessons it holds. It teaches us about the consequences of turning away from God, the importance of strong and principled leadership, and the need for constant vigilance in our spiritual journey. As we navigate our own paths, let us remember the lessons of this story and strive to uphold the values and teachings that guide us towards a righteous and faithful life.

In the broader context of Jewish history and tradition, the story of idolatry of worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf) is a poignant reminder of the constant struggle between faith and temptation, between the divine command and earthly desires. It underscores the importance of understanding the true nature of our relationship with God, one that transcends physical manifestations and is rooted in a deep, spiritual connection.

Just as the Israelites grappled with their understanding and expression of faith, so too do we encounter moments of doubt and confusion in our own lives. The story of the worship of Joseph teaches us that faith is not merely about external expressions or ritualistic practices; it is about an internal, personal relationship with the divine.

The narrative also reflects the human tendency to seek tangible representations of the divine, a challenge that remains relevant in modern times. In an era where physical and materialistic pursuits often overshadow spiritual values, the story of Joseph serves as a reminder to look beyond the superficial and seek a deeper, more meaningful connection with God.

A Warning for the Future

The parallels between our historical idolatry of worshipping Joseph (the Golden Calf) and our current attitudes towards Mashiach ben David are striking and laden with profound implications. Our collective journey since the Exodus has been marked not only by physical wanderings but also by spiritual explorations and sometimes, deviations. Just as we once turned to worship Joseph, there lies a risk in our excessive veneration of David HaMelech, especially in the figure of Mashiach ben David. This is not to diminish the significance of Mashiach in our faith, but to caution against an infatuation that might lead us astray from the true essence of our relationship with HaShem.

This tendency to elevate mortal beings to a status that rivals the divine is a recurring theme in our history. HaShem, in His infinite wisdom, has presented us with a mirror through the unfolding of events across time. The emergence of Christianity and the worship of a man, claimed to be the heir of Mashiach ben David, is a reflection of this very phenomenon. Intriguingly, this figure in Christian faith is also connected to Joseph, further emphasizing the cyclical nature of our spiritual challenges.

HaShem’s message through these mirrored events is clear: our devotion should remain solely with Him, and the human figures in our history, no matter how exalted, are but His instruments. This is not a rejection of the importance of Mashiach ben David, but a call to focus on the deeper, spiritual message of Mashiach – a message of hope, redemption, and divine connection, rather than on the physical persona of the Messiah.

In this light, our long wait for Mashiach ben David takes on a new dimension. It is not merely a wait for a person but a period of preparation for a spiritual era. It is a time for introspection, to examine our beliefs and practices, ensuring that they align with the will of HaShem. It is a time to study Torah not only for knowledge but for guidance on how to maintain a pure and unwavering devotion to HaShem.

Our history teaches us that the path to true spiritual enlightenment is fraught with temptations and potential missteps. The worship of Joseph and our current attitudes towards Mashiach ben David serve as reminders to constantly evaluate our spiritual focus. As we await the era of Mashiach, let us do so with humility, understanding that our ultimate allegiance and worship belong to HaShem alone.


In conclusion, the journey of the Jewish people, from the Exodus to the present day, is a journey of continuous spiritual growth and learning. As we reflect upon our past, let us glean lessons that guide us in our present and future. Let our devotion to Mashiach ben David be rooted in a desire for spiritual redemption and connection with HaShem, rather than in the worship of any mortal figure. In doing so, we honor the true essence of our faith and pave the way for a future that is in harmony with HaShem’s divine plan.


Tan. B. II, 112, IV, 76; Batte Midrashot III, 14-15. Yerushalmi Taanit 4, 68c; Sanhedrin 102a; ShR 43.2; Koheleth 9.11; Ekah 1.62. Shabbat 89a; Tan. B. II, 112-113; Tan. Ki-Tissa 19; Beha’aloteka 14; ShR 41.7; Targum Yerushalmi Exod. 32.1. PRE 45; ShR 41.5; WR 10.3., 7.1, 2.1; BaR 15.21; 9.44; EZ 4, 180; Sanhedrin 7a; Tan. B. II, 113; Tan. Ki-Tissa 19; Targum Yerushalmi Exod. 32.3-5; Zohar II, 191a; 192a. Midrash Shir 13a-13b. PK 9, 78a; WR 27.8; Tan. B. III, 94; Tan. Emor 11; ShR 42.6; Shir 1.9. Ginzberg, Haggadot Ketrot 53-54, 64-66=Haggoren IX; BaR 15.21. Tehillim 3, 37; ShR 41.1; Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10, 28b; WR 5.3. ShR 41.7; 42.4; Tan. B. II, 113. Midrash Talpiot.

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