Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And the folk of Moses, after (he had left them)) to go in retreat in the mountain, (chose) made (a calf (for worship), (made) out of their ornaments, of saffron hue) of their gold, (which gave a lowing sound) a sound that the Samiri made for them. (Saw they not) did the people of Moses not know (that it spake not unto them) i.e. the calf (nor guided them to any way? They chose it) they worshipped the calf out of ignorance, (and became wrong-doers) and they harmed themselves by worshipping it.
And the people of Moses, after him, took of their ornaments a calf, a body that lowed. Did they not see that it did not speak to them?
Sahl ibn ʿAbdallāh said, “Whatever in this world turns the servant away from the Real and holds him back from obeying Him is his calf, and he is its worshiper.”
The worshipers of the calf among the Children of Israel were delivered when they killed themselves by command, for He said, “So kill your own souls!” [2:54]. In the same way, the servant will gain deliverance in the road of the Haqiqah when he is made pure of his own portions and the secondary causes, or rather, when he disowns everything other than the Real. Thus someone said,
Disown everything in the realm of being-
be that Heart-taker's “companion of the cave.”
Did they not see that it did not speak to them? This denotes the rightful due of the Real. His description is that of a speaker who addresses the creatures and speaks to the servant, but the kings of the earth disdain to address their servitors with their tongues because of their majestic rank. In contrast, the Real put into effect His custom with His faithful servants. To the enemies He says, “Slink into it, and do not talk to Me!” [23:108]. To the faithful the Prophet said, “There is not one of you who will not be spoken to by his Lord without any interpreter between them.” In this meaning they have sung,
The Magnificence does not add to their ease
when they speak to Us and We speak a little to them.
And the people of Moses, after him, that is, after he had departed for the communion [with God], made of their ornaments, which they had borrowed from Pharaoh’s folk on the pretext of a wedding celebration, and which remained in their possession, a calf, which the Samaritan had fashioned for them therefrom; a [mere] living body (jasadan is a substitution [for ‘ijlan, ‘a calf’]), of flesh and blood, which lowed, that is, [which] made audible sounds [like a cow]: it [the calf] was transformed in this way when the dust, which he [the Samaritan] had collected from [where] the hoof of Gabriel’s steed [had trodden], was placed in its mouth, for it has the effect of [giving] life to that in which it is placed (the second direct object of the verb ittakhadha, ‘[they] made’, has been omitted, but it would be ilāhan, ‘[as] a god’). Did they not see that it spoke not to them, nor guided them to any way?, so how can it be taken as a god? Yet they took it as such, a god, and were evildoers, for taking it so.
Allah describes the misguidance of those who worshipped the calf that As-Samiri made for them from the ornaments they borrowed from the Copts. He made the shape of a calf with these ornaments and threw in it a handful of dust from the trace of the horse that the Angel Jibril was riding, and the calf seemed to moo. This occurred after Musa went for the appointed term with his Lord, where Allah told him about what happened when he was on Mount Tur. Allah said about His Honorable Self,
((Allah) said: "Verily, We have tried your people in your absence, and As-Samiri has led them astray'') 20:85. The scholars of Tafsir have different views over the calf, whether it actually became alive and mooing, or if it remained made of gold, but the air entering it made it appear to be mooing. These are two opinions. Allah knows best. It was reported that when the statue mooed, the Jews started dancing around it and fell into misguidance because they adored it. They said that this, the calf, is your god and the god of Musa, but Musa forgot it! Allah answered them,
(Did they not see that it could neither speak to them nor guide them to the way) Allah condemned the Jews for falling into misguidance, worshipping the calf and ignoring the Creator of the heavens and earth, the Lord and King of all things. They worshipped besides Him a statue made in the shape of a calf, that seemed to moo, but it neither spoke to them nor brought them any benefit. Rather, their very sense of reason was blinded because of ignorance and misguidance. Allah's statement,
وَلَمَّا سُقِطَ فَى أَيْدِيهِمْ
(And when they regretted), and felt sorrow for their action,
(and saw that they had gone astray, they said: "If our Lord have not mercy upon us and forgive us, we will certainly become among the losers.'') or among the destroyed ones. This was their recognition of their sin and their way of seeking salvation from Allah the Most Mighty and Majestic.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
They made the image in his absence of forty days, when Moses went to Mt. Sinai on the summons of Allah, while his people were encamping in the plain of Ar-Rahah.
Their calf-worship was the second manifestation of the change that had taken place in the Israelites during their stay in Egypt. They were so charmed by the cow-worship of the Egyptians that the Qur'an says, "......They were so prone to disbelief that they cherished the calf in their hearts". It is really strange that hardly three months after their miraculous escape from Egypt, they began to make demands on their Prophet to make an artificial god for them, and, as soon as he left them for the Sinai, they themselves devised a false god. It appears as if they had forgotten their recent deliverance from slavery, and their safe passage through the sea and the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in it. Though they knew that all those wonderful events had happened wholly and solely through the supernatural power of the Eternal, yet they shame-facedly forgot their Allah. It was this faithless conduct of the Israelites that prompted some of their Prophets to liken the Community to that wicked woman who shows love to all men other than her husband and does not hesitate to be faithless even in the very first night of her marriage.
By citing his words "..........do not include me among the workers of iniquity", the Qur'an has absolved Prophet Aaron from the wicked blemish that the Jews had stamped upon him. According to the Bible, Prophet Aaron was guilty of making the golden calf as god for them:
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wont not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings, which were in their ears and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a Braving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus, 32: 1-6). The Qur'an has refuted this allegation and related the fact about the matter that the man responsible for this heinous sin was not Allah's Prophet Aaron but his rebel Samiri. (For details, see XX : 90-94).
Though it may appear very strange that the Jews should accuse their own Prophets of the most heinous sins, yet a deep and critical study of their history will show that this was done to justify their own moral degradation. When the whole community in general, and the religious scholars and priests in particular, became involved in deviations and immoralities, their guilty consciences impelled them to invent excuses for justifying their own bad conduct. As they committed heinous sins like shirk, sorcery, adultery, treachery, falsehood and the like, they Blemished the pure character of their own Prophets by ascribing such sins to them as were most shameful even for an ordinary good man, not to speak of a prophet so that they could justify their own wicked deeds. They argued like this: "When even the Prophets could not save themselves from such sins, how could ordinary people like us be immune from weaknesses?"
'The Hindus also did the same during their moral degeneration and the literature of that period depicts gods, rishis and the like, in the blackest colors so that they could say, "When such highly placed beings were involved in immoralities, how could the common people escape froth them? And why should such things be shameful for them, when they were not shameful for their gods and rishis?"
In his absence, Moses’ people made of their ornament a calf; a body, which lowed…He [Sahl] said:The calf of each person is anything to which he devotes himself which diverts him away from God, be it a spouse or children. Furthermore, he will not rid himself of that until he has annihilated all the interests (ḥuẓūẓ) he has, that are its [his calf’s] means [of existence], just as the worshippers of the calf are not freed from its adoration except after slaying themselves. His words, Mighty and Majestic is He: