! In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Ayahs 65 and 66 read:
وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتُمُ الَّذِينَ اعْتَدَوْا مِنكُمْ فِي السَّبْتِ فَقُلْنَا لَهُمْ كُونُوا قِرَدَةً خَاسِئِينَ
فَجَعَلْنَاهَا نَكَالًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا وَمَا خَلْفَهَا وَمَوْعِظَةً لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ
"And certainly you know those of you who violated the Sabbath, whereupon We said to them, ‘Be you spurned apes.’ So We made it an exemplary punishment for the present and the succeeding [generations], and an advice to the Godwary." (2:65-66)
These Ayahs explain another phase of trial and tribulation for the Israelites by God in order to test their faith through proclamation of Saturday as a day of not a mere holiday but a day on which all works of earning livelihood had to be stopped. Despite the favours of God, a group of Israelites, living on the sea coast, resorted to trickery by attempting to circumvent Divine Commandment in order to fraudulently catch fish on Saturday. On Saturday they would make ponds by the coast and as soon as the fish entered these ponds they would block their way back into the sea, and then they would catch them on Sunday, saying that they did not violate the prohibition of earning livelihood on Saturday. Because of their making a mockery of God's laws, Divine Wrath afflicted this group of Israelites and as a punishment their faces became like that of the apes in order to serve as lessons for not just others of their times, but for all mankind till doomsday. However, it should be mentioned that animals are deprived of God's mercy, but when man, which is the best of creation, stoops to so low levels as to flaunt the favours of the Almighty, then his status falls below that of the animals as well.
Now let’s listen to Ayah 67 of the same chapter:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَن تَذْبَحُوا بَقَرَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُوًا ۖ قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللَّـهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
"And when Moses said to his people, ‘Indeed Allah commands you to slaughter a cow,’ they said, ‘Do you take us in derision?’ He said, ‘I seek Allah’s protection lest I should be one of the senseless!" (2:67)
The accounts of the Israelites are full of rebellion against God despite the constant flow of divine favours. Here they are commanded to slaughter a cow but they again disobey Prophet Moses. Since Ayahs 67 to 73 deal with the account of the cow, this particular surah of the Qur'an has been called al-Baqara.
It happened that some Israelites found the body of a man who was murdered but whose murderer was not known. There was dispute among the Israelite tribes as to who was the perpetrator. Finally they asked Prophet Moses to judge. Since solving the problem via normal ways was not feasible Moses resorted to a miracle and told the Israelites: That as a test God has commanded you to slaughter a cow and put part of its flesh on the body of the murdered man, who will miraculously become alive and reveal to you the name of the murderer. Upon hearing this answer the Israelites said: Do you deride us by proposing such a solution? But Prophet Moses said: Derision is the act of the senseless and ignorant people and the Messengers of God do not indulge in such acts.
This Ayah teaches us that if the limited capacity of the human mind and senses are not able to comprehend the wisdom of divine laws and decrees, we should not deny God's commandment or consider them as valueless. Although God could have divulged to Moses the name of the murderer, but the commandment of slaughtering a cow was not only a kind of divine tribulation to test the faith of the Israelites in God, but also a rejection of the sordid practice prevalent among some of the Israelites in regarding the cow as holy. Thus God wished to uproot this mentality.
Now it is time to listen to Ayah 68 of surah al-Baqarah:
قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا هِيَ ۚ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لَّا فَارِضٌ وَلَا بِكْرٌ عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ ۖ فَافْعَلُوا مَا تُؤْمَرُونَ
"They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be.’ He said, ‘He says, She is a cow, neither old nor young, of a middle age. Now do what you are commanded." (2:68)
When the Israelites found out that the commandment of slaughtering a cow is serious they began fabricating pretexts. These pretexts might have been the work of the murderer himself so that his identity is not revealed. Although asking is the key to comprehension and understanding, the Israelites sought to escape the truth via posing such silly questions instead of learning what they did not know. That’s why they posed their questions brazenly saying, ‘O Moses, invoke your Lord, as if the God of Moses was separate from theirs. It also proves that the faith of the Israelites in the One and Only God was not firm and steadfast even though they pretended to be monotheists.
Now let us listen to Ayah 69 of this chapter:
قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا لَوْنُهَا ۚ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ صَفْرَاءُ فَاقِعٌ لَّوْنُهَا تَسُرُّ النَّاظِرِينَ
"They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us, that He may clarify for us what her colour may be.’ He said, ‘He says, She is a cow that is yellow, of bright hue, pleasing to the onlookers." (2:69)
It is obvious that the Israelites didn’t want to fulfill the Divine Commandment though it was issued for the second time, that’s why this time they asked about the colour of the cow that was meant to be slaughtered, whereas first the cow’s colour had no role in the decree and secondly if it had been of any importance it would surely have been mentioned earlier. Thus, in order to remove all the pretexts of the Israelites, God decreed the cow to be yellow so that what they were slaughter shouldn’t be a deformed or worthless animal but a healthy one whose sight and appearance would attract the beholders.
Well now let’s have a short break and then we will review the lessons one learns from these Ayahs.
1. One should not act deceitfully in the face of Divine Decrees and Commandments. We must not try to circumvent God’s Decrees by keeping a religious appearance while it is hollow inside, because distorting the image of religion is tantamount to the distortion of one’s human face, as was the punishment that afflicted the Israelites who tried to play with the sanctity of Sabbath, and were thus turned into apes.
2. Divine Punishments are not confined to the Day of Judgment but God punishes certain unrepentant sinners for their cardinal crimes in this world so their fate would server as a lasting lesson for both the people of their times and for the generations to come.
3. We should never deride Divine Commandment and we mustn’t consider it irrational but should be absolutely obedient and submissive to what God has decreed, for, whatsoever He has ordered us is to our own benefit and to the good of the human community. Thus, although the slaughter of the cow to find the murderer appears weird, it both obliterates the tendency towards cow or calf-worshipping among the Israelites and also shows the Infinite Power of the One and Only God Who can revive a dead to life through whatever means He deems wise and necessary.
Translated by: R. Mansouri