February 13, 2014
It is well known that the Torah is not always written in absolute chronological order. There are flashbacks and prophecies (predictions). In the language of the Rabbis, ” Ain mukdam oh me’uchar baTorah” although this is used very sparingly in the Talmud and only when all other options have failed.
There is a major disagreement as to the order of the five sedras that we are now reading. Which came first, the building of the Mishkan or the sin of the Golden calf? A literal reading would indicate Mishkan and then calf. But many commentators hold the reverse, saying that the Mishkan was ordered because of the sin of the Golden calf without which there would have been no need for a central sanctuary.
As I have devoted this year to the study of Rashi’s commentary, here is a chronology of events according to his explanation with his sources (i.e. the verse on which Rashi comments)
The first year of the Exodus.
15 Nisan. Exodus from Egypt. Numbers 33:3
7 Sivan. Moshe’s first ascent on Sinai. Exodus 32:1
(note that the Tanchuma terumah chap. 8 has 6 Sivan).
17 Tammuz. Moshe comes down and breaks the tablets.
29 Av. Second descent. Rashi to Deuteronomy 9:18
10 Tishri. HaShem forgives Israel and commands to build Mishkan.
11 Tishri. Moshe’s third descent from Sinai. Donations for Mishkan commence. Rashi here and to Exodus 35:1
The Second Year after the Exodus
1 Nisan. The Mishkan is erected. Rashi here and to Exodus 40:17
Now let us look at the verse which seems to give the reason for the terrible sin.
“And the people saw that Moses had delayed in descending from the mountain and the people gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Rise up, make for us gods who will go before us, for the man Moses, who brought us up from Egypt. We do not know what became of him.’ “
that will go before us: אִשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ [The word יֵלְכוּ is in the plural form.] They desired many deities for themselves. -[from Sanh. 63a]
אשר ילכו לפנינו: אלהות הרבה איוו להם:
Who will go before us – RASHI: They desired to have many gods.
On what basis does Rashi say that the people wanted “many gods”? Maybe they just wanted one god to replace Moses, as they seem to be saying?
The Hebrew has “asher yei’lchu” means “who will go ( the verb is plural) before us.” So it wasn’t one god that they asked for; the plural verb shows that is was gods, in the plural, that they desired.
But this interpretation is problematic because the word “elohim,” meaning god, is always in the plural even when it refers to the One God, Hashem. So the plural verb (“they will go”) is appropriate. Maybe they desired only one god and referred to him as “elohim,” just as Hashem is also called “Elohim” (in the plural)?
Hashem is referred to as Elohim in the plural, as a sign of respect (in English this is called “the Royal We”). Just as “Adonoi,” another name for Hashem, literally means “my Lords” in the plural. But whenever Hashem is called Elohim, in the Torah, the verb is always in the singular. As in the oft repeated phrase “Va’y’daber Elohim…” – “And God spoke…” – the verb “spoke” is in the singular. But in our verse the people used the plural “they will go,” indicating that they desired many gods. This is the basis for Rashi’s interpretation.