You’ve Really Done It This Time


By Jeffrey Fiskin

Published February 25, 2005, issue of February 25, 2005.

Two men, one old, the other older, walk along the edge of an encampment at the foot of a great mountain. They can hear the keening of thousands, a collective wail of deep sorrow, of eternal repentance.

Aaron: Well, you’ve really done it this time. What were you thinking?

Moses: Don’t even try to make this look like my fault.

Aaron: Not the Golden Calf, the tablets! You smashed them.

Moses: Of course I smashed the tablets.

Aaron: But as it is written, “He who breaks anything in anger is as if he were an idolater.” [Talmud, Shabbos 105b]

Moses: Yes. But I wasn’t angry.

Aaron: “… And Moses’ anger waxed hot and he cast the tables out of his hands and brake them beneath the mount.” [Exodus 32:19] You wrote that yourself.

Moses: But this was righteous anger. More like exasperation. One minute everybody’s all excited about committing themselves to God and Torah. I turn my back and the next minute they’re building altars and dancing around some solid-gold veal. I’d say, under the circumstances, a little righteous indignation is acceptable.

Aaron: That is what lawyers call a “nice” distinction. You really think He’ll buy that?

Moses: What I’m worried about is you, Michelangelo.

Aaron: Me? As it is written, “…thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.” [Exodus 32:22]

Moses: That’s your best defense? “It was that way when I got there”? [Homer Simpson]

Aaron: The whole thing was their idea. You were gone. They begged for an idol.

Moses: And you obliged them?

Aaron: Look what happened when Hur tried to talk them out of it. They killed him! [Midrash Abba Gorion]

Moses: You saw that?

Aaron: No. But the story’s making the rounds. You want to take a chance with that kind of a crowd? I’m a priest. I make the sacrifice; I don’t become the sacrifice.

Moses: So far you’ve given me nothing I can work with. It was less than six weeks ago He said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” [Exodus 20:4] You heard Him with your own ears.

Aaron: But I didn’t make a graven image. Okay, I did ask for all their gold, but only because I figured they would refuse. They couldn’t get it off fast enough. So then I figure I’ll just get rid of it. So I throw it into the fire. Done. Except then this calf comes out. I think it must have been the work of magicians or something. You know you have let a lot of riff-raff tag along.

Moses: Magicians? Why not Satan?

Aaron: Yeah, Satan! Why not?

Moses: Aaron! This calf comes out? Do the words “fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf” [Exodus 32:4] ring any bells?

Aaron: He told you that, didn’t He? Look, I was under a lot of pressure.

Moses: And then you dedicate the calf and have a feast day!

Aaron: By that time I knew they were going to go ahead, so I had to take the sin on myself to protect them, you see.

Moses: Oh. Very heroic. Aaron, are you listening to yourself? You sound like a 3-year-old.

Aaron: Fresh faced and innocent?

Moses: No. Caught red-handed and too stupid to realize a lie will only get you in deeper. These are a bunch of ex-post-facto explanations, justifications and excuses.

Aaron: I’ve got another one.

Moses: (Sigh) Go ahead.

Aaron: If you were describing me to somebody, what would you say?

Moses: A man of a certain age, still firm…

Aaron: No, no, no. Character.

Moses: A man of peace —

Aaron: Exactly! Now I’ve got 600,000 people who are very upset you haven’t come back on the 40th day. Some 3,000 of them are clamoring for a visible symbolic representation —

Moses: Enough with the euphemisms.

Aaron: They want an idol. Now maybe I can rally some of the crowd to my side. But these are, as you know, a people who resist the yoke, like stiff-necked oxen. So then what have I done? I’ve fomented a civil war. Is that what you wanted to come back to?

Moses thinks for a moment. Finally nods his head.

Aaron: You figured out what you’re going to tell Him?

Moses: Yeah. That we’re a bunch of sinners. Then I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the court.

Aaron: You think that’ll work?

Moses: For me and Bnai Yisrael? Yes. For you? Probably not. As it is written: “And the Lord was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him…” [Deuteronomy 9: 20]

Aaron: “… to have destroyed him…”?

Moses: Don’t worry. I’ll put in a good word for you.

Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer living in Hollywood.

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