Why is it that the children of Israel kept turning aside from the living Elohim to worship...cows? From Aharon at the foot of Mt. Sinai, to the sin of Jeroboam, there's a long history of cows serving as a temptation to the people of Israel, to the great displeasure of Hashem (G-d).
Why is that? What is it about a cow? Why would we, as Israel, keep trying to worship cows?
We know a red heifer, and indeed any unblemished cow, mattered a lot for sacrifice under God's provisions for spiritual reconciliation between people and the Divine. These things were important, because "remission of sins is only possible with the shedding of blood." Hebrews tells us that the sacrifice of bulls and rams provided a temporary relief from sin and separation from God. Because of their temporary nature, those sacrifices had to happen again and again until the Messiah finally came, when he could die once and for all. The cow was only a shadow of the final sacrifice, a part of ritual designed to mimic, not replace relationship with God. Could the cow-worship have foreshadowed our human desire to always seek ritual over relationship? Our spiritual autism, as it were...
I notice that of the idols in the Old Testament, we never saw a lamb. It's cows, poles (considered phallic by their worshippers), alters, dudes, but not lambs. Why is that? Strength, are we looking for something with strength, which causes us to reject the gentle, meek Messiah when he finally shows up?
Another thought: in Hinduism, the cow is not worshipped, but revered for its gentle nature, its strength, and the milk/butter it provides (according to the Internet...in Hinduism's past, in ritual that echoes Judaism, bulls were sacrificed, but over the evolution of the religion that practice fell away). As I'm meditating on the cow, this seems to be a lead: the cow represents earthly provision that we can control.
Think about it. Every year human society controls and slaughters hundreds of thousands of these animals, and they don't start an uprising or anything. They provide food, milk, and today, and to a greater extent back during Israel's pastoral period, they're a symbol of wealth. They're dumb and easily controlled.
And now you can see why we worshipped the cow at the foot of Sinai. We still worship the cow today, every time we choose wealth over the lamb's kindness and self sacrifice, every time we decide we want to control our future, instead of letting the lion lead us. Every time we choose ritual over relationship with the Messiah.
Oh Lord, save your Israel from idolatry to the cow. Help us put the cow in her proper place, as a gift to you...not as our escape from you.
Reading inspired by Shemot 32 (Exodus 32)