Ayah 65: "And you had already known about those who transgressed among you concerning the sabbath, and We said to them, "Be apes, despised."
A part of the Jewish tradition is Sabbath, in which they are not allowed to work or do business. At the time of Dawud (AS), the way they would work is they would catch fish. However, they had a feeling that the best day to catch fish was Saturday. This is since they weren't supposed to work, and do their religious duties instead, they felt it must be a good day to fish. They then began to play tricks. What they would do is put a net in the water and the fish would get caught in it that day, and on Sunday they would pull the net out. By doing this they thought they were bypassing the Shariah. During this time, a conflict arose between two groups of the Bani Israel. One group was righteous, and said that what they are doing is wrong and against the Shariah. Sabbath is not supposed to be a working day. The group that came up with the idea, however, said that they are not going against the Shariah. They are only catching the fish on Saturday, and then taking it on Sunday, so that should be permissible. The righteous people then moved out of the city and isolated those going astray, because they knew that Allah's punishment would come upon those who are disobedient to Allah. One day what happened was that one day the righteous group who had moved out from the city did not hear any noise coming from the city, and went back to see what was going on. They then saw that their relatives had been turned into apes. The facial features allowed the people to recognize who the apes were, yet they could do nothing about it. Within 3 days, all of the apes had died, and that is how the city was destroyed. So here Allah (SWT) highlights that if it wasn't for Allah's mercy, the Bani Israel in Musa (AS)'s time would have become losers, like this group of people discussed in this ayah.
In the next ayah, the Quran continues, "And We made it a deterrent punishment for those who were present and those who succeeded [them] and a lesson for those who fear Allah ." This incident has been made an example for the people at that time, and all the people who came after them until the Day of Judgement, since this story is preserved in the Quran until that day.
Ayah 67 reads, "And [recall] when Moses said to his people, "Indeed, Allah commands you to slaughter a cow." They said, "Do you take us in ridicule?" He said, "I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant." This story is important because the whole surah (Baqarah), is named after this story. the background of this story is that among the Bani Israel, one day there was a murder. No one knew who the murderer was. There are two possible reasons for the murder, in two narrations:
i) A man came to a girl's father, and asked for her hand in marriage. The father said no, so the man killed him .
ii) There was a nephew who had a rich uncle who could not have children. This nephew killed the uncle, and put the dead body on the doorstep of another person. The next morning, people saw the dead body and thought that the man whose doorstep the body is on had killed the uncle. He said that he didn't, and a big fight erupted between the Bani Israel. The elders of the community said that there is no need to fight, since they have Musa (AS) with them, and so he should be asked.
When Musa (AS) was narrated this story, he made dua to Allah (SWT), and Allah commanded them to sacrifice a cow. The Bani Israel asked Musa (AS) if he was joking, not believing what he said. Musa (AS) replied that he seeks refuge from the ignorant people. What Allah has said cannot be a joke. What they were supposed to do was kill the animal, take a part of it and hit the dead man, and it would be revealed to them who the murderer was.
However, the Bani Israel continued asking questions. In ayah 68 it says, "They said, "Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is." [Moses] said, "[ Allah ] says, 'It is a cow which is neither old nor virgin, but median between that,' so do what you are commanded."
In the initial command, Allah had told them to sacrifice a cow, and were they to kill any cow, it would have been accepted from them. The way they told Musa (AS) to make dua is they said "Call upon your Lord". Allah is everybody's Lord. Allah then responds that the cow is neither too old or too young, but in the middle, so do what you were told to do.
They again continue asking questions, "They said, "Call upon your Lord to show us what is her color." He said, "He says, 'It is a yellow cow, bright in color - pleasing to the observers.' "They said, "Call upon your Lord to make clear to us what it is. Indeed, [all] cows look alike to us. And indeed we, if Allah wills, will be guided." In one hadīth [it is reported]: 'Had they not uttered inshā'a Llāh, it would never have been made clear to them.
"He said, "He says, 'It is a cow neither trained to plow the earth nor to irrigate the field, one free from fault with no spot upon her.' " They said, "Now you have come with the truth." So they slaughtered her, but they could hardly do it." In a hadith, it is very clear that had they killed any cow, it would have been accepted from them. By creating all this questioning, they actually created problems for themselves. When they finally found the right cow, then it belonged to an individual who didn't want to give it. He finally said that the only way he will give his cow is if they return the cow's skin full of gold in its place. So that is what the Bani Israel had to go through, all because they did not know the a'daab of asking questions. It's always good to question, but with sincerity. These people were not being sincere, they were making fun of the Shariah. The Sahaba were very careful about what it meant by sincere questioning. In fact, it comes in a narration that they only asked 12-14 question in total to the Prophet (SAW). When an outside person used to come, they would love it, since people would ask questions and they could hear the answers. The 12-14 questions that were asked by the Sahabas were so important, that the answers were narrated by Allah. In the Quran, examples of both extremes have been narrated; those who ask useful questions, and those who ask questions for no purpose.
The next part of the story continues, "And [recall] when you slew a man and disputed over it, but Allah was to bring out that which you were concealing". This is the first part of the cow story. Since Allah has put this part of the story in the second part, the story of the cow is emphasized more. The story of the cow is separate from this story. The Quran continues, "So, We said, "Strike the slain man with part of it." Thus does Allah bring the dead to life, and He shows you His signs that you might reason." When the cow was killed, the people hit a part of it on the dead man, who pointed to his nephew and said that he killed him, and then died again. This point shows that Allah can bring a dead person back to life, and this is what will happen to us on the Day of Judgement.
Ayah 74: "Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder. For indeed, there are stones from which rivers burst forth, and there are some of them that split open and water comes out, and there are some of them that fall down for fear of Allah . And Allah is not unaware of what you do." This ayah highlights that the heart can have many different states. Sometimes hearts can become as hard as rocks. Some hearts are alive, others are dead. The people whose hearts are alive enjoy the Quran, hadith, the dhikr of Allah. Those people whose hearts are dead are the people who just don't care, and their heart is sealed. This ayah speaks of the diseases of the heart. The heart can be seen from a health point of view, and a spiritual point of view. Here, the spiritual aspect is being discussed. Like the body which is functioned to do different things, the heart also has different functions. Naturally, the heart likes to do dhikr, pray, be in the company of the pious etc. When we find that our heart is not doing what it's supposed to do, we should know it's a problem and try to rectify it.
May Allah (SWT) give us the tawfiq to learn from these various narrations, and protect us from disobeying his ayaat and earning His wrath.