Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel
This he took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf. Exodus 32:4
It may be the most infamous barn animal in history and certainly in the Torah … the golden Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel. Moses ascends the mountain to draft the terms of the covenant on a couple of stone tablets. The people feel alone and isolated in the wilderness. Overcome with worry and anxiety, they turned to a familiar symbol … a golden Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel. They felt abandoned by their deity, so they turned (back) to another. (Even though the other deity had enslaved them for centuries.)
Why a Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel? We are told or we assume that it was god to the Egyptians .. but why? Why not a full grown cow? What am I missing about the regal nature, grace and majesty nature of the Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel that makes it worthy for godhood? Seriously, have you ever heard those descriptions associated with a calf?
When I think about it, the calf was probably pretty common and mundane to the life lived lived by the Israelites in Egypt. It was a creature (and others like it) who were part of the everyday fabric of their existence … the thing they turned to in a moment of crisis, the item they chose to fill the god-shaped hole that consumed them in the wilderness was something common and easily accessible. It was something that in and of itself was not not negative or destructive. In fact it provided essential and necessary elements to their lives. The Calf – עֵ֣גֶל – Eigel was also something of which they could make an idol – something that would stand in the way between them and authentic divinity.
We are not building gold calves theses days. However, it seems to me that thousands of years after this story was first told, it still points us to acknowledge an important human struggle. Identifying and committing ourselves to what is authentically divine and vigilantly paying attention that our attitudes, choices and actions do create obstacles that keep us estranged from from that which is ultimate and essential.