Calf and Cow
Both the sin of the golden calf and the atonement for it find expression in the Torah portions that will be read in synagogues this Shabbat. While the regular weekly portion describes the sin of our ancestors in transferring their allegiance to a calf made of gold, the additional reading of Parshat Para describes the atonement for that sin through the ashes of the red cow.
Rashi, in his commentary on this atonement process, points out the correlation between the calf and the cow. One of the parallels is based on the Torah's requirement that the red cow used for atonement "be without blemish and upon which a yoke has not come" (Bamidbar 19:2).
Quoting the midrash of Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan, Rashi writes that before they sinned our ancestors were without blemish and loyally wore the yoke of allegiance to G-d. The insistence on the red cow being without blemish and with no experience of a yoke was to bring home the message that when man begins to worship his own creation he becomes the victim of both imperfection and irresponsibility.
Our people's history is filled with "golden calves" – ideologies that were worshipped as a substitute for allegiance to Heaven – and the consequences were tragic. It is to be hoped that the correlation between calf and cow will arouse our nation to the need for atonement that will secure Israel forever.