The Antidote to The Egel
They took to the streets, gathering in numbers and strength, shouting their demands at Aharon. They spoke at him saying: “Get up! Make for us an elohim!” This was the am, as in the pasuq: vayiqahel ha’am al Aharon, and the am, gathered against Aharon. This group did not include the entire nation, it was exclusively the ereb rab, the mixed multitude, those who joined Benei Yisrael on their exit from The House of Bondage (Egypt).
The am, the ereb rab, were but a small group of people, who during this moment, called all the shots. They directed the leadership, and made their demands. They used coercion and imposed themselves on Benei Yisrael. They set themselves up as the leaders and directors of the community, and charted a new direction.
Moshe was standing before the Creator of The World, so enraptured by the experience that he had no need for food or water for forty days. Nearing the end of Moshe’s experience, Yehoshua tells Moshe the sound of battle is in the camp! Moshe listened carefully, and noted, this was not the sound of military victory or loss, it was the sound of distress, the sound of oppression.
This is the society the ereb rab were familiar with, a hierarchy established and maintained through violence. They did not see themselves under the rule of law. They created the rules. That is why they did not have any hesitation for carnage, destruction, and illicit behavior. They were a mob.
In a mob, the individual does not matter, besides for his value as an increase in the size of the crowd. There is equality, but no individuality. This point is made by Elias Canetti, a Sephardic Nobel Laureate in his book Crowds and Power:
“Within the crowd there is equality. This is absolute and indisputable and never questioned by the crowd itself. It is of fundamental importance, and one might even define a crowd as a state of absolute equality…”
Once the mob gained power they got up to ‘play,’ vayaqumu lesaheq, which according to our Hakhamim means murder and licentiousness. This is the attitude of the mob, everything is made light, rules and values don’t matter, the value of an individual, their relationships or property. That is why destruction is left in their wake. It is the attitude of ‘I was just joking’ after having done something horrid and cruel.
The solution to the mob is not dispersion, as this will create chaos and eventually a new mob. The antidote is individuality within the community. Moshe spoke to each individual member of Benei Yisrael and asked them for their individual voluntary contribution. There was no fear of harm from the group or its leaders, only a call for volunteerism. Each person asked to offer their unique capabilities to the group.
Benei Yisrael were instructed to bring forth their unique offering to the community, their individuality. With the mob, by the het haegel, the direction was: ‘Bring me Jewelry!’ This was said by Aharon, but was under the duress of the ereb rab. The statement was first and foremost a directive, Aharon was not asking, he was telling the people: ‘Bring to me!’ parequ nizmei hazahab! This was the voice of the mob. In this directive, there was no room for individuality, everyone was told to bring the exact same thing, nizmei hazahab, golden nose rings.
Moshe, in contrast, spoke with Benei Yisrael. He engaged with them. He did not command, intimidate or coerce, but rather asked for volunteerism, as he said: ‘Anyone who feels moved, bring a donation to God,’ kol nedib libo yebieha et Terumat Hashem. He asked the Qehila, the congregation, to think about what they could uniquely offer the community. There were many options, such as metals: gold, silver and copper, zahab, vakheseph unhoshet. One could also choose to bring leather, orot eilim or orot tehashim. Wood, esim, oil, shemen, spices, qetoret, precious stones, abnei miluim, were also possibilities. Beyond these resources and materials, one could donate their talent and craftsmanship to the building of the Mishkan and its vessels, vekhol Hakham leb bakhem yabou veya’asu et kol asher siva Hashem.
The antidote to the Egel was when Moshe gathered the people, vayaqhel Moshe et-kol-adat Benei Yisrael, and Moshe gathered the entire nation of the children of Yisrael. Moshe created the qehila when invited the people to join a collective as individuals. The people came forth on their own volition, offering their distinctive contribution and brought even more than was asked for. This is in stark contrast to the only other time in Tanakh that we have this term, with Aharon, by the het haegel.
When we became a qehila¸ we became an engaged community, with participation from all members. This type of community is the one we seek to build, the model established by Moshe Rabbenu. To do this, we should each look inside ourselves and think about what we can uniquely offer to our community. What unique skills, connections, abilities do we have that will enrich the life of those around me. Let us become the qehila that Moshe modeled for us.
Rabbi Meyer Laniado
 Shemot 32:1
 Our Hakhamim tell us the am refers to the ereb rab. See Rashi Shemot 32:7
 Debarim 9:9
 Shemot 32:18
 Shemot 32:6
 Ibid. Rashi
 Shemot 32:2
 Shemot 35:5
 Shemot 36:6-7