The Secret Symbolism of the Calf and Goat

27 Mar
By Menachem Feldman

After an act of deep betrayal, the children were about to reconcile with their Father. They gathered for what was to be the culmination of a month-long effort to rehabilitate their loving relationship, yet one important question remained: could the children reunite with their father before they healed the division between themselves?

The opening verse of this week’s parshah, Shemini, describes

How would the reconciliation take place?

how the Jewish people finally completed the construction of the Tabernacle after months of tremendous devotion and effort. The Tabernacle was the place where the Divine presence would dwell, and where the people would see that the terrible betrayal—the sin of the golden calf—was forgiven, and that G‑d would once again dwell in their midst as He had at Sinai.

How would the reconciliation take place?

And it was on the eighth day that Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aaron, “Take for yourself a bull calf as a sin offering.”1

Moses told Aaron to offer a calf for atonement. It was clear to all that the Divine presence could not return to the Jewish people before the betrayal was finally and completely healed. But why a calf? We may need to consult with Rashi for that explanation, but to the people of Israel at the time it was apparent: the calf would atone for the sin of the golden calf.

But Moses continued:

And to the children of Israel, you shall speak, saying, “Take a he-goat as a sin offering…”2

What now? Why a goat? What other “unfinished business” did the people have to attend to before the glory of G‑d would appear before them?

While the calf immediately evokes the story of the golden calf, finding the meaning of the goat is a bit harder. We must turn back to the book of Genesis to discover that indeed the goat played an important role in the most tragic sin of the family of Israel: the sale of Joseph.3 After the brothers tore their family to shreds by selling Joseph into servitude in Egypt (a sale which ultimately led the entire family to relocate to Egypt and descend into slavery), instead of showing remorse they used a goat for their cover-up:

And they took Joseph’s coat, and they slaughtered a he-goat, and they dipped the coat in the blood. And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, “We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son’s coat or not.” He recognized it, and he said, “[It is] my son’s coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up.”4

As the people gathered at the Tabernacle waiting for a sign

What now? Why a goat?

of the Divine presence, Moses taught them that in order to heal the relationship with their Father, the children must first heal their relationship with each other. He explained that the jealousy and division which led to the sale of Joseph, was, in fact, the precise character trait which led to the division and separation from G‑d at the golden calf, and in order to find harmony with G‑d, it must be eradicated from their midst.

For indeed, the only way children can be in complete harmony with a parent is when they are in complete harmony with each other.5

1. Leviticus 9:1-2.
2. Ibid. 9:3.
3. See Midrash Torat Kohanim.
4. Genesis 37:31-33.
5. Based on the Kli Yakar on Parshat Shemini.

As taken from,

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Posted by on March 27, 2019 in Uncategorized


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