Last week we read about the golden calf. On the surface it seems incomprehensible to anybody about how the Jews could have sunk to idolatry so soon after they received the Torah.
For this reason various answers are given. One is that the Jews didn’t sin on their own, but were pressured into the by the Eiruv Rav, while another says that the Jews didn’t really mean to do serve idols they just wanted a new intermediary.
The major problem with these answers is, for the first, how many Eiruv Rav were there? Because 3,000 were killed by the sword and they also got a plague, which in other cases in the Torah kills around 25,000 (Midian). So many Jews were clearly serving the idol, enough that G-d wanted to destroy the nation, and furthermore the Eiruv Rav were not the moat influential people out there. The second answer leads to the question of why they were punished so harshly. They didn’t know that they weren’t allowed to make graven images, the Torah hadn’t been given yet. Also the verse clearlyh states that they wanted it as an Alohim Achair (other god)
Another problem with the standard account is why is Aharon considered to have done a bad thing? Before the Torah was given there would be no reason to apply Y’harag v’Al Ya’avor (Kill and don’t transgress) when you know that your actions will make no difference whatsoever.
I believe I have an answer to these questions. The Jews knew that Hashem existed, they had just gone through the Exodus and been sustained by miraculous manna. However, they considered Hashem to be one of many gods, the most powerful, but one of many. However, Moshe was considered by them to be the only one who could deal with Hashem. So they went and worshiped another god (I don’t know what god the golden calf represents, if you have an idea mention it in the comments) this was a serious sin, a rejection of G-d. This is why G-d wanted to destroy the people and start over with Moshe. The people obviously didn’t worship G-d they worshiped Moshe.
This is the reason why Aharon made such a mistake in helping to build the calf (or not preventing it), Aharon had credibility as a substitute for Moshe as he preformed several miracles, but he failed.
This problem of people worshiping Moshe cna illustrate several things in the Torah. For instance G-d told Moshe to send the spies, because he didn’t want the people trusting Moshe’s word. If they wouldn’t trust G-d they shouldn’t trust Moshe about the land. In fact this might be a strong reason why the generation had to die out before entering the land. The Jews might have had the nerve to conquer the land if Moshe led them, but they couldn’t have felt the sense of ownership and feel confident in driving out the invaders once Moshe died.
The last straw was by the Well of Miriam. It had dried up and with it went the last symbol of somebody besides Moshe having the miraculous powers. G-d told Moshe to tell the rock in His name to give water. Instead Moshe hit the rock in a display of power, cementing the impression people had that Moshe was the only one who could channel G-d for them.
This also explains why Jericho had to be conquered through a miracle. The people needed to know that G-d could do miracles through people other than Moshe.