Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Remember when We took your pledge, making the mountain tower above you, and said, ‘Hold on firmly to what We have given you, and listen.’ They said, ‘We hear' and we disobey, and through their disbelief they were made to drink the calf deep into their hearts. Say, ‘If you are believers, what an evil thing your faith has made you do.’
(Chapter 2:Verse 93)
In the previous verses, God reprimanded the Israelites for abandoning their faith and scriptures. He reminded them that despite the miracles of prophet Moses, and countless bounties, they worshipped a calf soon after. This was not because they were over burdened or short on opportunities. As this verse explains, Allah gave them many chances and went to great lengths to guide them to the straight path.
After the Israelites neglected God's bounties and miracles, He raised mount Toor above their heads asking them to adhere to His teachings and scriptures. They accepted and pledged to abide by the torah, not out of faith, rather out of fear. Allah does not force or coerce anyone into belief. Rather, it was out of love and mercy for the Israelites that He raised the mountain above them. Let's clarify this point with an example. If your young child is sick and needs a terrible tasting medicine to feel better, what would you do? Would you try to entice him or her with a toy or a sweet treat? If all fails, would you pressure your child with a scolding? You would do all of this out of compassion and love because your child's health is very important. Similarly, Allah enticed the Israelites towards faith with bounties and miracles, and when that failed He used fear because He does not want His creation to go astray and live without heavenly guidance. When mount Toor was raised above the heads of the Israelites, they saw God's power and ability, hence they believed. God wants them to know that He did not spare any means to encourage them to adhere to faith, but it was their arrogance and stubbornness that led them astray.
Let's examine the phrase 'your pledge.’ Was it God's pledge or the Israelites'? It is God’s covenant, but in this verse He attributed to the Israelites because they took part in it. A covenant or a promise requires two parties to agree. The children of Israel followed prophet Moses out of their free will. When they started to break away from their covenant, God blessed them with miracles and then raised mount Toor above them to bring them back to the deal they made. Allah is merciful and compassionate with his servants. When He sees them disobeying, He warns them and may even cast fear into their heart so they may return to the right path. Mont Toor remained above the heads of the Israelites only for a few minutes. Thus, one cannot conclude that they were forced to take the pledge because as soon as the miracle ended they had the choice to do whatever they saw fit.
The Israelites were very materialistic people, and their hearts were attached to the tangible. Thus, it is interesting to note that Allah used this point to attract them towards faith. The miracles God granted prophet Moses were all magnificent material miracles, because they had the best chance to influence and soften the hearts of the Israelites. Take the examples of parting the sea, providing top quality foods of mana and quail, and raising mount Toor.
The verse continues with 'Hold on firmly to what We have given you, and listen.’ God wanted the Israelites to receive His teachings with love and devotion. We usually protect and hang on to the things we love. If you truly love Allah, you would hold His teachings dear, and try to perform then to the best of your ability and that is how God wanted the Israelites to receive the Torah.
The same applies to listening. You listen attentively to the ones you love......you don't just hear them and disregard what they say. What was the Israelites response to God's invitation to 'Hold on firmly to what We have given you, and listen’? The response came in two parts. First: they said with their tongues ‘we hear.' But the louder response came through their actions as illustrated by the phrase 'and disobey.’ In other words, they heard with their ears what God said to them, and then disobeyed in their actions. Allah wants you to listen in order to learn, act on and benefit from His word. Allah speaks to you, so you would be active applying His teachings. In fact, if you hear God, but do not act upon the Quran, your inaction becomes a sin.
‘and through their disbelief they were made to drink the calf deep into their hearts.’ This phrase paints a picture for us. Love is intangible, it is a spiritual matter, not a materialistic one. Thus, the expression should have logically been ‘they were made to drink the love of the calf deep into their hearts.’ However, God wanted to tell us that their love for the calf was so intense as if the calf itself had entered into their hearts. We get another view of this picture through God's choice of the verb 'drink.' When you drink water, it goes through your entire body to become a part of your being. Likewise, the love of the material and the tangible had penetrated into the hearts of the Israelites to the extent that it became part of their being.
How did this happen, you may ask? It was ' through their disbelief.' As if disbelief was the cup that served them the love of the calf. Here again we should note that the actions of the Israelites preceded God' actions. They disbelieved first, and because of this disbelief, the love of the calf entered their hearts and was sealed in.
Allah ends the verse with the following phrase: Say, ‘If you are believers, what an evil thing your faith has made you do.’ This is a direct answer to the Israelite's claim in the 91st verse when they said '"We believe in only what was sent down on us." Dose the Jewish faith command denying God's prophets and breaking His covenant? of course not. Rather, their faith commands them of all that is good and righteous as the following verses illustrate:
Grant us good things in this world and in the life to come. We turn to You.’ God said, ‘I bring My punishment on whoever I will, but My mercy encompasses all things. ‘I shall ordain My mercy for those who are conscious of God and pay the prescribed alms; who believe in Our Revelations; who follow the Messenger- the unlettered prophet they find described in the Torah that is with them, and in the Gospel- who commands them to do right and forbids them to do wrong, who makes good things lawful to them and bad things unlawful, and relieves them of their burdens, and the shackles that were on them. So it is those who believe him, honour and help him, and who follow the light which has been sent down with him, who will succeed.’ (07:156-157)
Allah is fully aware of all the good and all the righteous commands He gave the Israelites. This is why when they try to deceive God, and contradict His teachings He scorns them and says: "‘If you are believers, what an evil thing your faith has made you do.’ It is an expression full of irony and mockery. The people of Moses were not true believers. They had the love of the calf in their hearts.