Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Teruah and the Sin of the Golden Calf

In reading about the Sin of the Golden Calf in today's Torah portion, I noticed something that to me seems a bit strange. When Joshua hears the noise of the people celebrating at the golden calf, the Torah describes this as בְּרֵעֹה (Shemot 32:17). Virtually all of the classical commentaries interpret this to mean shouting or crying coming from the same root as the word for תרועה, Teruah, the broken middle sound of the Shofar which is compared to crying. For example, see Targum Onkelus who translates it as מיבבן the same word used in the Talmud to describe the תרועה sound, Ibn Ezra who directly connects this word with תרועה, and Rashi who says it means בהריעו another form of the word תרועה.

Furthermore, the use of the word ברעה is not just incidental to the story. Different forms of the word רע appear over half a dozen times in the account of the Sin of the Golden Calf. It is actually the מילה המנחה, the leitwort, of the story. Rav Shimshon Raphel Hirsch explains that the root רעה means broken and thus the תרועה is a broken sound and someone who is רע, evil, is morally broken or corrupt. The repeated use of different forms of רע also might be an allusion to the Egyptian god, Ra. (See Rashi Shemot 32:12 based on the Midrash).

Why is this so troublesome to me?  Rosh Hashanah is described in the Torah as being personified by the תרועה when it is called a יום תרועה in Parshat Pinchas and a זכרון תרועה in Parshat Emor. The association of this sound of the Shofar with the Sin of the Golden Calf does not seem to be something we would want to evoke on the Day of Judgment. Furthermore, the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 26a) applies the rule אין קטיגור נעשה סניגור, the Prosecutor cannot also serve as the Defense Attorney, to explain why we cannot blow the horn of a cow on Rosh Hashanah because of its association with the Sin of the Golden Calf and why the High Priest cannot enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur with his golden vestments for the same reason. Why then would we personify the day of Rosh Hashanah as a day of תרועה if that very sound evokes the memory of the Sin of the Golden Calf?

I welcome answers to this difficult conundrum which I have not seen addressed by the commentaries. Please enter your answers or references to sources that deal with this issue in the comments to this posting.

1 comment:

  1. When living in Wyoming we bordered forest land. One day we awakened to the ‘sound of chain saws’ that totally decimated several sections of adjoining land. This precipitated a move to Alaska where chain saws are a necessary everyday sound, but it still unnerves me hearing them in the distance. Because of that memory it causes me to be alert to make sure my area is not threatened with danger.

    Knowing the sin of the golden calf, hearing the trumpet should be an alert for us to be on guard that a similar danger is not upon us.

    I was noting the interchange of ‘beyt’ and ‘tav’, [ tb the ‘daughter’ of Zion the one who is to be alert]. The beyt becoming a tav seems significant. The tav said to be the impression of ‘Torah’ which Moses gave Israel after again ascending Sinai to make atonement. According to Rabbi Ginsburgh [] he notes ‘tav’ as ‘salvation and God’s seal on all of reality: the source of teshuvah’.

    Thanks for the insight on the color of the garments.