How come Aaron didn’t get punished for forging the golden calf? Others were executed. It doesn’t seem fair.
Good question. The only people that were killed were those who actually worshipped the golden calf, but Aaron did not worship the golden calf. In fact, see Exodus 33-26, that Moshe declared “He who is for God should come forward and ALL of the tribe of Levi came forth”, this included Aaron and all of his children. Then, they were told that they should kill anyone who worshipped the golden calf, even if it is relative, and no one from the tribe of Levi was killed. (See Rashi that the relatives that they killed were only thru marriage because the whole tribe of Levi were clean). Additionally, see verse 32-21, with Rashi commentary, that Moshe asked Aaron, “What did the people do to you, that caused you to bring them to this sin”, not that he himself sinned and worshipped the calf.
Additionally, the Midrash says that the people originally came to Chur (Miriam’s son) to help them make the calf, he refused, and they killed him. Then when they came to Aaron, he couldn’t refuse, lest he get killed, so he tried a different strategy. He would stall them off until Moshe would get back. Therefore, Aaron first told them, “go get the jewelry from your wives’” , thinking that it would take plenty of time to convince the women to give up their jewelry (See Rashi 32-2). To his dismay the people took the jewelry off their wives in their haste. Then Aaron had no choice but to put the gold into the furnace in order to prepare it for fashioning. However, one of the people put a piece of paper with special writing on it, inside the over, which caused the gold to form into the calf instantly, essentially leaving Aaron with no choice. Then Aaron tried something else, he said “tomorrow we will rejoice”, trying to stall more time until tomorrow, when Moshe would already have returned, however Moshe returned only after that.
Although Aaron did all he could to prevent the making of the calf, he was still partially held accountable for his involvement with the calf. Therefore on the first day that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was inaugurated, Aaron brought a calf, to serve and an attornment for his involvement (see Rashi Leviticus 9-2).