The vision of God sitting on a throne in the celestial world is an anthropomorphic symbol used by several of the prophets recorded in Tanakh. These entail descriptions how the Light of the Creator is held up or transported by four creatures whose faces are imprinted on the chariot of the King of Kings. The faces of these carriers are depicted in detail in the first chapter of Yehezkel. The lion the king of beasts, the ox the king of livestock, the eagle the king of birds and the face of man who is exalted amongst them.
The Job of Israel - Assist in Establishing the Throne
Our affinity and mutual responsibility to the throne of God is apparent from a report in the Talmud (Shabbat 88) that when Moshe appeared in the celestial regions in order to receive the Torah for the people of Israel, he felt threatened by the ministering angels. God instructed Moshe to protect himself by grabbing onto the divine throne while responding to the angel's accusations against the Torah being given to man. God was showing Moshe that the acceptance of Torah entails us as a nation to act as guardians and upholders of the Divine throne; The Divine Throne will thereby act as a protector for us.
We were chosen as a people to occupy this exalted position originally personified individually by our patriarchs. This I believe is manifest in the travels of Bene Yisrael in the desert in the form mimicking the chariot in the upper regions. Ibn Ezra (2:2) apparently basing himself on the Targum of Yonatan Ben Uziel in Sefer Bemidbar comments that each triad of tribes carried a flag depicting one of the four faces of the Merkava ( Divine Chariot).
The Sin of the Golden Calf - A Stiff Necked People
Yehezkel describes (1:10) the spiritual position taken up by the Ox on the divine chariot. "And an ox's face to the left for the four of them." The Talmud (Hagigah 13) clearly associates the sin of the Golden calf with the face of the ox on the Merkava. Based on a composite of Midrashim (SR) Ramban (32:1) explains that Israel understood that they were to sojourn in the wilderness, in a spiritually dangerous locale. They were aware that the power of the Satan is nourished via its access to the side of judgement. If the nation or an individual will act in an unauthorized manner of Midat Hadin the Satan would be nourished thereby putting them in mortal danger.
He writes "they were in dread of the divine attribute of justice symbolized by the (left side) ox." They therefore fashioned a golden calf to focus their service of Hashem in a way that would spare them being subject to this attribute. According to my humble opinion it appears as if they intended to mimic Moshe; but instead of grabbing onto the Throne they sought protection only via the left part of the chariot associated with the Ox. The Shelah continues with a similar approach describing the conduct of Israel as one which discredited the name of Hashem and his throne.
Their action was equivalent to unhitching one of the four beings pulling God's chariot. The left face symbolizing as is known the attribute of judgement a domain the Satan has access to if not kept in purity. This is apparently why the Torah describes Israel in the narrative numerous times as being unbending and stiff necked. (32:9, 33:3, 33:5).This trait being associated with the ox and left side of the chariot. So instead of eliciting protection they unleashed an imbalance in the celestial regions resulting in a flurry of accusations against them.
Four Steps to Incorrect the Imbalance
1. Moshe's Prayer
According to the Talmud (Shabbat 30), Moshe arose at that time and offered many prayers and supplications to begin the process of correcting the imbalance caused by the sin of the calf. He was only answered when he said " Remember for the sake of Abraham, Yishak and Yisrael your servants...". Namely, Moshe recalled that it was the patriarchs who were the servants of the Creator serving him in the capacity to establish his throne. They then transferred this task upon their children as an everlasting covenant between them and the Creator. This prayer served as the initial correction of imbalance caused by the children of Israel.
2. Revelation of the 13 Attributes
The Creator participated in the second part of the correction process by revealing the 13 attributes. The people of Israel would be granted a method to arouse the elevated light known as Keter. This level is an expression where the attribute of judgement ascends to such a high state that the Midah of unbending or stiff neckedness becomes indiscernible with the attribute of kindness. As the verse in Devarim (32:39) explains this ascent as " I, I am He (and there is no (discerning state as) Eloh'im at this level.
3. Israel's Participation - Mahasit Hashekel
The verse which includes the precept to give a half shekel (30:13) reads, "This they shall give." The tikun to reattach the face of the Ox with the other facets of the chariot appears to also require a unification of the people in performing what appears to be an individual's misva. All should have an equal share in the upkeep of the Temple; the poor and rich were to give an equal share. The unifying factors in this misva include the ruling that payment is to be given at once, during same month, and all an equal amount.
4. A Final Method to Reconnect to the Chariot
In a later chapter (34) Moshe no longer appears apologetic that the people of Israel are stiff necked. In fact, he uses this to beseech Hashem to once again walk among us instead of sending an angel. "If you are indeed pleased with me O God, Let my Lord go among us, for this nation is stiff necked..." I think what we can take from here is that being unbending can also serve in a positive role of reconnecting the attribute of judgement back onto the chariot. Moshe in effect tells Hashem, "who else but a stiff necked people would be able to last thousands of years in exile." When evil rulers will demand that we succumb to their god or way of evil; who else other than a stiff necked people would refuse them and be willing to give up their lives for the sake of Hashem?
I think the lesson is clear. The left face or Midat Hadin should never have been unhitched from the other carriers of the Merkava. Since it had occurred we are told by the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102) every punishment that descends upon Israel contains some measure (1/24 of overage) that pertains to the sin of the golden calf. The same source expresses another view that punishments continued for 24 generations from that of the golden calf until the generation of King Sidkiyahu and the destruction of the first temple.
These Talmudic references of 24 clearly indicate that the attribute of judgement was still active. (As is expressed by 24000 students of R.Akiva (Yevamot) and 24000 of the tribe of Shimon (Balak 25:9) dying in plagues) This unhitching released the forces of Din upon the people of Israel. Our options for tikun is to once again take hold onto the complete throne by balancing ourselves in divine service in the nature of the Avot. We must also attempt to arouse the 13 attributes by raising our tendency to judge strictly to one tempered with mercy. Finally to unify ourselves amongst our people by performing misvot on the caliber of the half shekel. In addition, if and when we are called from above to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Hashem, we must use our unbending nature exclusively in our service of him.