Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(They said: Pray for us unto your Lord that He make clear to us of what colour she is) what colour the cow is. ((Moses) answered: Lo! He saith: Surely she is a yellow cow) her hoofs and horns are yellow while her body is black. (Bright is her colour) her colour is light, (gladdening beholders) pleasing those who look at her.
They said, ‘Pray to your Lord for us, that He make clear to us what her colour may be’ He said, ‘He says she shall be a golden cow, bright in colour, that is, of a very intense yellow, gladdening to beholders: its beauty will please those that look at it.
[They said, 'Pray to your Lord for us, that He make clear to us what her colour may be'. He said, 'He says she shall be a cow] golden, because the colour of the body is black, lacking as it is in luminosity in the first place; the colour of the vegetative soul is green because of the manifestation in it of luminosity, while the prevalence of black in it is on account of its inability to perceive; the colour of the heart is white because of its being disengaged from the body, its perceptive capability and the perfection of its luminosity. Necessarily then the colour of the animal soul in speechless animals is red because of the composite nature of the luminosity of its perception and the blackness of its attachment to the body, since 'red' is a colour between white and black and is composed of them both, albeit the black predominates; it [the soul] is yellow in human beings because the luminosity of its perception predominates by its adjacency to the heart, for yellow is red coloured by white; bright in colour, due to the purity of its preparedness and the radiance of the beam of the heart's light upon it; gladdening to beholders', because of the strength of its preparedness and its radiance. The 'beholders' are the perfect individuals who look upon preparednesses because of their obligatory love for the prepared who are able to see and their tasting in their presence.
The Stubbornness of the Jews regarding the Cow; Allah made the Matter difficult for Them
Allah mentioned the stubbornness of the Children of Israel and the many unnecessary questions they asked their Messengers. This is why when they were stubborn, Allah made the decisions difficult for them. Had they slaughtered a cow, any cow, it would have been sufficient for them, as Ibn `Abbas and `Ubaydah have said. Instead, they made the matter difficult, and this is why Allah made it even more difficult for them. They said,
ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّنَ لَّنَا مَا هِىَ
(Call upon your Lord for us that He may make plain to us what it is!), meaning, "What is this cow and what is its description'' Musa said,
(He says, `Verily, it is a cow neither too old nor too young'), meaning, that it is neither old nor below the age of breeding. This is the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, As-Suddi, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, `Atiyah Al-`Awfi, `Ata', Al-Khurasani, Wahb bin Munabbih, Ad-Dahhak, Al-Hasan, Qatadah and Ibn `Abbas. Ad-Dahhak reported that Ibn `Abbas said that,
عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذلِكَ
(But (it is) between the two conditions) means, "Neither old nor young. Rather, she was at the age when the cow is strongest and fittest.'' In his Tafsir Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that,
(bright in its colour) "A deep yellowish white.''
(pleasing the beholder) meaning, that it pleases those who see it. This is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah, Qatadah and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas. Furthermore, Wahb bin Munabbih said, "If you look at the cow's skin, you will think that the sun's rays radiate through its skin.'' The modern version of the Tawrah mentions that the cow in the Ayah was red, but this is an error. Or, it might be that the cow was so yellow that it appeared blackish or reddish in color. Allah's knows best.
إِنَّ البَقَرَ تَشَـبَهَ عَلَيْنَا
(Verily, to us all cows are alike) this means, that since cows are plentiful, then describe this cow for us further,
وَإِنَّآ إِن شَآءَ اللَّهُ
(And surely, if Allah wills) and if you further describe it to us,
(He says, `It is a cow neither trained to till the soil nor water the fields') meaning, it is not used in farming, or for watering purposes. Rather, it is honorable and fair looking. `Abdur-Razzaq said that Ma`mar said that Qatadah said that,
(sound) means, "The cow does not suffer from any defects.'' This is also the opinion of Abu Al-`Aliyah and Ar-Rabi`. Mujahid also said that the Ayah means the cow is free from defects. Further, `Ata' Al-Khurasani said that the Ayah means that its legs and body are free of physical defects.
Also, Ad-Dahhak said that Ibn `Abbas said that the Ayah,
فَذَبَحُوهَا وَمَا كَادُواْ يَفْعَلُونَ
(So they slaughtered it though they were near to not doing it) means, "They did not want to slaughter it.''
This means that even after all the questions and answers about the cow's description, the Jews were still reluctant to slaughter the cow. This part of the Qur'an criticized the Jews for their behavior, because their only goal was to be stubborn, and this is why they nearly did not slaughter the cow. Also, `Ubaydah, Mujahid, Wahb bin Munabbih, Abu Al-`Aliyah and `Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam said, "The Jews bought the cow with a large amount of money.'' There is a difference of opinion over this.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
The Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a cow in order to rid them of the sanctity and worship of cow which they had adopted from the pagan nations around them. It was a test of their faith: if they really believed in Allah as their only Deity and did not make anyone or anything else the object of their worship, they should break the idol of their former worship with their own hands. But this proved to be a very hard test. They tried to evade and avoid the sacrifice because their belief in One God had not become firm as yet. They went on asking one detail after the other in order to put it off, but the more questions they asked the more they were driven into a tight corner. So much so that at last they were specifically told to sacrifice that very golden-coloured cow, which was being specially chosen for worship at that time. The Bible also mentions this incident, but does not tell how the Israelites tried to put it off by asking a number of unnecessary questions. (Please refer to Numbers, 19: 1-10).
“... a golden cow bright in color gladdening to beholders.” They said “Pray to your Lord for us that He make clear to us what she may be; the cows are all alike to us; and if God wills we shall then be guided.” Just as her [bright] color would have been perceived by the eyes the allusion here is to those of the people of the story ahl al-qiṣṣa whose witnessing overwhelms the hearts [of others] because of that which is clothed with the garment of invincibility jabarūt and made to rise from the witness of the unseen. One notices that someone like this is oblivious to human states and is overtaken by the remembrance of the Real. Thus in the transmitted tradition: The friends of God are those who when they are seen God is remembered.