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.