The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha. The finest materials are now applied toward three elements: the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.
And then there was the big screw-up on the part of some Israelites, or the big explosion on the part of HaShem. Was the Golden Calf episode inevitable?
Consider this. The Israelites had no real antecedents to the new laws of HaShem. As we saw in past parashot, there was no conception of rights, in Egypt. The Israelites were to obey the Egyptian overseers, period.
Now, they were out of Egypt and, according to HaShem, have only to obey the word of HaShem in order to be happy. Perhaps, though, some Israelites feel they needed a break from obeying authority, even if that authority sounds more reasonable than the Egyptians, even if that authority is truly looking after their welfare.
Perhaps, too, after the excitement of fleeing Egypt, perhaps because of so many wonders in rapid succession, the Israelites expect Moses to pick up the stone tablets quickly and to skate down the mountain to deliver them to the people. When Moses doesn’t return after some days, some of the people grow restless and revert back to old polytheistic ways.
The people are creatures of habit, creatures who have not fully integrated the new habits of worshipping only HaShem and the habit of keeping the Sabbath. The key to understanding this is Aaron’s behavior in the midst of the Golden Calf episode. Aaron provides to Moses the lame excuse that Moses took too long coming down the mountain. It might be inferred that Aaron’s old habit before the Exodus was polytheistic sacrifice.
Both HaShem and Moses are furious at the lapse in the Covenant. HaShem understandably instructs the Levites to kill the offenders. But Moses, once calm, gets HaShem to calm down as well, or at the very least to realize that his anger could destroy all the Israelites. HaShem creates a distance between himself and the Israelites so this does not happen.
Questions to be discussed: What does Moses get HaShem to understand about his wayward people? How does this affect HaShem’s expectations regarding the Israelites?