Moses on Mount Sinai Jean
Moses on Mount Sinai JeanJean-L�on G�r�me

We read in our Parasha, of the sin of the Golden Calf, and that:(32:30-32)’On the next day, Moshe said to the people:’You have committed a grievous sin! And now I shall ascend to Hashem- perhaps I can win atonement in the face of your sin’. Moshe returned to Hashem and said:’I implore! This people has committed a grievous sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now if You would but forgive their sin! - but, if not, erase me now from Your book that You have written’’.

The parshanim note that, both in his words to the people, AND in his plea to Hashem, Moshe magnifies their transgression, by referring to it as ‘a GRIEVOUS sin’.

Concerning his words to the people , the Alshich Hakadosh expounds:”’on the next day’: Moshe saw that the people would now say: those who transgressed have all been punished, and therefore we are blameless.

“He therefore corrected them, telling them that they, too, transgressed, because לא מחיתם: they did not object, against the actions of the sinners”.

The Siftei Kohen comments:”Moshe Rabbeinu told the people that their sin was a ‘grievous sin’, so that they should do complete Teshuva, and not think that that they were exculpated by the death of the three thousand sinners.

“He therefore said to them:’YOU have committed a grievous sin’, not only those who were killed, because כלכם ערבים זה לזה: ‘you are all guarantors one for the other’.

“He intended thereby that, they should pray for forgiveness ‘downstairs’, and that he would pray ‘upstairs’, when he ascended- and this could only be effective if the people did Teshuva; otherwise, it would be like a person immersing for purification, whilst holding a שרץ: an impure insect, in his hand”.

We remain, however, with the more difficult question: Granted, Moshe in his wisdom, chose to rebuke his people that they had committed a ‘grievous’ sin, to move them to do Teshuva; but why did he also, in his plea to Hashem, on their behalf, also ‘confess’ that they had committed a ‘grievous’ sin?

This is the query of Rav Yosef Salant, who wonders:”What was on Moshe’s mind in his plea to Hashem, when, instead of seeking to minimize the severity of his people’s transgression, he magnified it, saying: ‘This people has committed a grievous sin’.

One answer to this vexing question, may be found in a wondrous Midrash Rabba:’All the tzaddikim come with אומניות: skillfulness, before Hashem, and so too, Moshe Rabbeinu, when said to Hashem that Bnei Israel: ‘committed a grievous sin’.

“When the heavenly accusers saw that Moshe was מקטרג: accusing his people, they said: We have no need to accuse them whilst he is doing so, so that their forefathers will not stand against us, for accusing their descendants. Thereupon, the heavenly accusers departed, and, on seeing this, Moshe Rabbeinu pleaded to Hashem:’Forgive their sin’’.

Haktav veHakabala comments:’We learn of Moshe Rabbeinu’s great wisdom, when confronted with having to make a request which he knew would be ‘very difficult’ to be granted: “He therefore first acted in a way that suggested that he agreed with this, even giving a decisive reason as to why such a request should be denied, planning that would cause him to find favor in the eyes of the other one.

“This, in turn, created an opening for his real request to perhaps find a receptive ear, when he makes it.

“This is what Moshe Rabbeinu did: he first asked rhetorically:‘Is it possible to ask ‘If you would but forgive their sin’?, the word ‘if’ here is to absolutely negate such a possibility, meaning: Definitely not!

“He then added:’And if not’, meaning since the answer is ‘No’, and there is no room to grant forgiveness, then ‘erase me from Your book’, so that it should not be known to all the future generations, that I was the leader of a people who did not merit to be forgiven”.

Concludes the Rav:”In this way, when he came to plead for something ‘impossible to grant- for how would Hashem ‘wipe out’ the name of one who did not himself transgress- Moshe Rabbeinu achieved his real objective, obtaining foregiveness for the seemingly unforgiveable sin of the people”.

Rav Yosef Salant offers another answer, citing another wondrous saying of our Sages: the Gemara (Yoma4:) brings the teaching of Rav Yehoshua ben Levi:’Bnei Israel only made the golden calf to give an answer to baal’ei teshuva’: Rashi comments: Bnei Israel at this time were righteous and in control of their yetzer, and their yetzer should not have been able to overcome them, but for the decree of Hashem, Who caused them to succumb.

“This was for the benefit of the baal’ei teshuva, who might have despaired of being able to repent from their sins: if they should think that their teshuva would not be accepted, tell them: Look at Bnei Israel: they transgressed with the golden calf, yet their repentance was accepted”.

Expounds the Rav;”This was Moshe Rabbeinu’s argument before Hashem: How could it be that the people who were at such a lofty level of righteousness could descend to commit such a ‘grievous sin’?

“The only possible answer is that they did not merit to commit this sin, and it was only to give an opening to future generations of baal’ei teshuva, that they were led to transgress.

“Now, if you, Hashem, forgive them, then the objective will have been achieved; but if you should not do so, then there was no point to permitting these righteous people to fall.

“Therefore, You MUST forgive them- and this was a very strong argument that they be forgiven”.

The Alshich Hakadosh sweetens our understanding of this awesome episode, by noting that Moshe Rabbeinu, in his plea to Hashem, says:’The people have committed a grievous sin AND made themselves a god of gold’.

“Why”, he asks, “did Moshe Rabbeinu ‘unnecessarily’ add the word ‘and’, which suggests that, in addition to the making of the golden calf, there was another sin, as, otherwise, he should have said:’Committed a grievous sin, making a god of gold’.

“This likely was an allusion to the teaching of our Sages, that it was by decree of Hashem, to give an opening to future baa’lei teshuva; how else could Bnei Israel go from one extreme to another, until they served avoda zara? Only if there was an earlier very serious sin, as ‘a transgression brings another transgression’.

“And as they had not committed another, earlier sin, it could only be that they transgressed in the golden calf because of the decree from Above.

“And since Hashem did not rebut his argument, Moshe concluded that there was indeed no earlier transgression- and since this was the case, ‘forgive their sin’, for, if you won’t, then there is no purpose for me continuing to live, so ‘erase me from Your book that you have writtten’”.

A concluding thought from Rav Chaim Friedlander:’Moshe Rabbeinu, in the parasha of the golden calf, showed that if, heaven forfend, it should be dscreed that Bnei Israel be wiped out, there would be no reason for him to remain alive, as his very existence was bound up with the destiny of his people.

“So much so, that he offered up his life as atonement for their sin:’If not, erase my now from Your book’.

“This supreme act of chessed, was a sanctification of Hashem’s Name, in the merit of which Bnei Israel were forgiven, for defiling Hashem’s Name, in making the golden calf,”.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.