In Parshat Eikev, Moshe Rabbeinu continues to review with Bnei Yisrael the events that happened in the desert following Yetziat Mitzrayim. In recalling the events of Cheit HaEigel, Moshe talks about something that was not indicated in the Torah’s initial version of the story. Specifically, the Pasuk reads (9:20), “Hashem became very angry with Aharon to destroy him, so I also prayed for Aharon at that time.” In Sefer Sh’mot, while the Torah certainly describes Aharon’s involvement in building the Eigel, it explains that Aharon only did so out of desperation. He was trying to buy time. The implication there was that he was not held accountable for his involvement. In Parshat Eikev, however, it seems he was held accountable, and Moshe had to pray for his survival.
The Hertz Chumash explains that Aharon’s guilt was as a leader of Bnei Yisrael. When Moshe went up to Har Sinai, he put Aharon and Chur in charge. Although Aharon did nothing wrong on a personal level, as the leader of Bnei Yisrael he was responsible for their actions. Instead of Aharon leading the people away from Cheit HaEigel, the people led him. He failed as a leader.
If this is the case, it is very hard to understand how the punishment for Aharon’s failure would be his death. How could Hashem think of killing him now, yet later make him Kohen Gadol? Rashi explains that that Hashem was not considering killing Aharon. Instead, He planned to destroy Aharon’s lineage by killing his children. Moshe’s prayers saved two of Aharon’s children, Elazar and Itamar, though they were not able to save Nadav and Avihu.
Rashi’s explanation still leaves one question. Why does Rashi link the death of Aharon’s sons to the Cheit HaEigel?
Perhaps Rashi is bothered by the fact that Aharon’s guilt is only mentioned in Eikev, not in Shemot. In Eikev, Moshe is trying to make Bnei Yisrael understand the severe consequences of their own actions. Their actions at Cheit HaEigel brought guilt not only upon themselves, but also upon Aharon, who was otherwise innocent. Their actions had tragic consequences: the deaths of two of Aharon’s sons.
Moshe’s message to Bnei Yisrael, and to us today as well, is to be aware that our actions often have consequences well beyond ourselves. As part of the Jewish people our actions affect all of us. If we sin, we bring trouble to Jews everywhere. However, if we follow the Torah and stay away from sin, we will bring Brachah to Klal Yisrael.