“Aaron said to them, “[You men,] take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  (Exodus 32:2)

            Each year, as I begin reading the story of Aaron building the Golden Calf, I think of a humorous story.  Two men are being led out to be executed by a firing squad.  The leader tells the men, “Before I blindfold you, do you have any last words.”  One man begins to speak when the other pokes him in the ribs.  “Quiet, you don’t want to make trouble.”

            There are some people who simply don’t want to make trouble.  One was Aaron the brother of Moses, inaugurated as the High Priest.  The people confront him, why was Moses delayed coming down the mountain?  Make us a god to lead us through the wilderness.  This will be the god who took us out of Egypt.  Aaron does try to delay them.  He tells the men to bring their gold, hoping that they would refuse to give up their valuables.  He delays them until the next day, hoping they will change their minds.  Perhaps by then Moses will come down from the mountain.  But in the end, Aaron makes the Golden Calf.

            The Rabbis try to justify his actions.  They claim that the people at first confronted Hur, another leader of the Israelites.  When Hur refused, they put him to death.  Then they confronted Aaron.  When Aaron saw how angry the mob was, he built the idol to save his own life.  One can understand his motivation.  But Jewish law is clear, it is better to die then to commit idolatry.  So, what motivated Aaron?  And in the end, why was Aaron not punished for building the Golden Calf?

            I believe the answer is that Aaron was a peacemaker at heart.  He truly did not want any trouble, and he was willing to do whatever was necessary to calm the people down.  Pirke Avot speaks about the personality of Aaron. “Hillel used to say: be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to the Torah” (Avot 1:12). The Midrash teaches how, when people get into fight, he would go to each one separately and says the other wants to make peace.  When a husband and wife quarrel, he would tell each that the other wants forgiveness.  He was truly a peacemaker.

            In fact, the Talmud compares the two brothers Moses and Aaron.  “Moses would say, let the law pierce the mountain.  But Aaron loved peace and pursued peace” (Sanhedrin 6b).   It is fascinating that the people mourned Aaron’s death more than Moses’ death.  Moses was a law person, while Aaron was a people person.  As a peacemaker, he earned the love of the people.  But if this was his personality, one could understand why he built the Golden Calf.  Perhaps that is why God was willing to forgive him.  God recognizes that Aaron was a man who only wanted to pursue peace.

            Being a peacemaker is a virtue.  The Bible teaches, “There is a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8).  The Byrds built their peace-loving song “Turn, Turn, Turn” on this passage from Ecclesiastes.  But they ended the song with the line, “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”  We all want peace.  But perhaps we can learn from the story of Aaron that peace is not always the correct choice.  There is a time to take a hard line and not make peace.  Perhaps if Aaron realized that, perhaps if he were a bit more like his brother Moses, there never would have been a Golden Calf.