[In order to understand] the incident of the Golden Calf, we must understand what was the intention of the Mixed Multitude in making this calf at this point.

As the Sages note, it was the "Mixed Multitude"(Ex. 12:38) of non-Jews that accompanied the Jews in their exodus from Egypt who instigated the idolatry of the Golden Calf.

I have already informed you [in my comments] on the verse And there arose a new king over Egypt (Ibid. 1:8), about the idea of the Mixed Multitude, [in particular] how they were [derived] from the impurities and pollution of [the soul of] Moses, whose soul was [derived] from the daat of Zeir Anpin itself, [which is in turn derived] from the mentality of Abba.

Moses' soul was derived from daat, which means that he was an expression of the idea of taking the intellectual idea and translating it into personal relevance, producing emotional response and practical expression. The fact that daat is informed by the mentality of Abba means that it is the new, revolutionary, initial Divine insight that seeks to be made relevant and change reality.

But any initial insight appears in consciousness together with an admixture of impurity, in the form of illusions and deceptions, which have to be clarified out of the raw material of the insight via the process of bina. Moses' error was in not recognizing these aberrations in the insight granted him for what they were, thinking that they could be incorporated and elevated into the picture. In material reality, this was expressed as his inclusion of the Mixed Multitude in the Exodus. Laban the Aramean was reincarnated as Balaam

Elsewhere, the Arizal explains that the Mixed Multitude was indeed meant to be elevated eventually, but Moses tried to do this prematurely. This is evidently a classic example of the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that every process of spiritual growth must proceed through the three stages of submission (of the ego, in order to gain new insight), separation (of good and evil, in order to refine and purify the insight), and sweetening (of the impure elements of the insight with the power generated by the pure, refined insight). Moses was trying to skip the middle stage of this process.

Nonetheless, they still contained an admixture of sparks of holiness, and this is why Moses exerted all his energy to gather the Mixed Multitude under the wings of the Divine Presence, [that is, to convert them to Judaism].

We find a similar [phenomenon] with Balaam, about whom our Sages said, "[When the Torah says:] 'And there arose no prophet in Israel like Moses,'(Deut. 34:10) [it implies that] no [such prophet] arose in Israel, but among the [other] nations of the world one did arise, namely Balaam."(Bamidbar Rabba 14:19)

Balaam was thus somehow a fallen version of Moses.

I have also informed you [in my comments] on the verse: And Rachel stole her father's terafim (Gen. 31:19) that Laban the Aramean was reincarnated as Balaam son of Be'or, for Be'or was Laban's son and Balaam's father. This whole family was [derived] from the one common source we have mentioned; they were all impurities from the soul of Moses. This includes Laban, Be'or, Balaam, and [Balaam's] two sons Yunus and Yumbruce that are mentioned in the Zohar. (II:191a) Therefore, they were all great magicians and sorcerers, without equal anywhere in the world.

If Moses embodied the power to take divine insight and make it relevant, we may assume that magic is a perversion of this power. Magic is the combining of disparate forces in nature that appear at first unconnected and unrelated and harnessing them to produce results. This is possible only if the one attempting to manipulate these powers possesses some inkling of the fact that everything is indeed related somehow, and can therefore be connected. Magic simply takes the insight of unity and ignores the divine essence…

The idea that everything is connected is derived, in its source, from the divine insight that G‑d created everything and sustains everything, and thus everything in the world is an expression of His power and is meant to express His presence. So the perversion of magic simply takes the insight of unity and ignores the divine essence of this unity.

Thus, these souls, who were derived from the admixture of impurity in Moses' soul, possessed something of his insight into the unity of Creation, but either ignored or could not "divine" the divinity underlying this unity. They therefore possessed great magical powers.

Now, I have already informed you in "The Gate of Reincarnations" (Introduction 22) as well as in [my discussion of] the commandment of Grace after Meals, (Shaar HaMitzvot) how souls transmigrate progressively through the four kingdoms: mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. I told you there also that there is a fixed time for [their incarnation into] each of these levels, after which they ascend to the next level. Now, the time fixed for being incarnated into the vegetable kingdom is the first four months of the year, which are Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, and Tamuz. After this, the [reincarnated souls] ascend to be incarnated into animals.

Now, Be'or, the father of Balaam, was reincarnated into the vegetable kingdom, but he was not able to proceed in his rectification by ascending into the animal kingdom because of he was so polluted by evil. He was undoubtedly the highest aspect of the impurities in this soul-root, so therefore his grandsons Yunus and Yumbruce, who were the leaders of the Mixed Multitude, as is known (Zohar, loc. cit.) as well as the Mixed Multitude themselves, all wanted him to be rectified. For his elevation would mean an elevation for them. Through this…they would be able to extricate the soul of their grandfather Be'or from the vegetable kingdom…

So they examined and understood through their magic that the only way it would be possible for him to ascend from there would be if they made the Israelites sin. Through this, the forces of evil would be strengthened, and they would be able to extricate the soul of their grandfather Be'or from the vegetable kingdom.

To [the sin of the Israelites] would be added the fact that the sin would occur through Aaron, the High priest, the holy one of G‑d.

The evil generated by a sin is greater the holier the sinner, for the holier the person, the more divine power he embodies.

Added to this would also be the fact that they possessed the same golden plate inscribed with the words, "Ascend, O ox!"

In Moses farewell blessing to the Jewish people, he describes Joseph as an "ox": "The most eminent, his [is the power of the] ox that is given to him…."(Deut. 33:17) In Jacob's blessing to Joseph, the same word for "ox" appears, although in a different meaning, that of "wall": "A fruitful son is Joseph, a fruitful son above the [evil] eye; daughters tread over the wall [to gaze on him]." (Gen. 49:22) The words for "over the wall" in Hebrew are "alei shur", which if slightly revocalized can be read: "Ascend, O ox!" ["aleh" "shor"].

The Sages tell us that when Joseph died, his coffin was placed in the Nile River. When the Jews left Egypt many years later, Moses stood at the edge of the Nile and cast into it a golden plate inscribed with the words "Ascend, O ox!", and Joseph's coffin rose to the surface. In this way, Moses was able to fulfill Joseph's wish to have his bones removed from Egypt and buried in the Land of Israel. (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tisa 19) Obviously, this golden plate possessed great power. By eating this grass, the limbs of the Calf became animated one by one…

Thus they devised to make the Golden Calf, which is also called an "ox", with the powerful magic tools in their mouths, which upset the order of the supernal realms. All the powers we mentioned combined together - that of the evil [generated by the Jews' sin], that of the magic [powers they possessed], that of the holiness of Aaron's, and that of the holy Name etched in the golden plate that was used to elevate Joseph from the Nile. This combination produced the Golden Calf, which was animated by the spiritual life-force of their grandfather Be'or. [Be'or] thus ascended from the vegetable to the animal kingdom, and [the Mixed Multitude] accepted him as their leader, who would inform them of the future and tell them whatever they would need to know. And all this was possible by the fact that they made the Israelites sin, as we mentioned.

The soul of the wicked Be'or, which was present in this calf, was who yelled out, saying "This is your G‑d, O Israel!" (Ex. 32:4) as our Sages have stated. (See Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 25)

This is also the inner meaning of our Sages' statement (Pesikta Zutarti, Shemot 32:4) that they fed the Golden Calf grass, as it is written, "[They made a calf at Horeb, and bowed down to a molten image; they made their glory bitter] in the form of an ox eating grass." (Psalms 106)

To explain: since [Be'or] was incarnated in the vegetable kingdom as grass, [the Golden Calf] ate [this grass] in order to extricate [Be'or's] soul that was incarnated there. By eating [this grass], the limbs of the Calf became animated one by one, and [Be'or's soul] thus ascended from the vegetable to the animal kingdom.

They accomplished all this through the power of their magic.

And this is why they made the Golden Calf in the month of Tamuz, for that is the last month of the time of reincarnation ascending from the vegetable kingdom into the level of animals.

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim, Ki-Tisa; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]