In this week's Parsha, in the after-math of the Golden Calf, Moshe
confronted his greatest challenge as teacher and leader of the Jewish people.
His beloved nation and children were threatened with extinction! The facts
were irrefutable. The prosecuting team and the judge were one and the same.
Not only did all the circumstantial evidence point to the Chosen People's
intentional betrayal of G-d; not only did the DNA evidence show beyond a
shadow of a doubt that the Jews had worshipped another G-d; not only were the
sandaled footprints in the sand clearly those of "His kingdom of priests" and
no one else; but more so than all that, the Judge Himself had personally
videoed the entire incident! Not even the Dream Team could have pulled off
this one! Even an argument based upon "their unknown intentions" would not
have worked. As we say during the High Holidays, "Before You is revealed all
the hidden secrets!" G-d, is called the only "Truthful Judge" because He is
the only judicial force that renders His decisions based upon the absolute
knowledge of everything that is related to the actual crime, as well as the
full, far reaching impact of every possible consequence. What was Moshe to do
when Hashem said to him, "And now leave Me, and My anger will burn against
them, and I will destroy them…!" (32:10) What possible defense could he have
offered on behalf of his nation?
Precedence in law is a very powerful argument. If the defense can show
that another judge had ruled in a similar case to acquit, rather than to
convict, it is possible that the judge will take such a ruling into account
and do the same. It is even more powerful if the defense can show that the
very same judge hearing the present case set the precedence. In the Torah
there is another moment when man argued against G-d's intended punishment. In
the story of Sodom, Avraham brilliantly argues on behalf of leniency, and G-d
openly agreed that He would be lenient if Avraham's argument could be
substantiated. Unfortunately for the Sodomites, Avraham could not find 10
righteous people to win his case. Yet, Avraham valiantly attempted their
defense, in spite of the overwhelming evidence against them. Moshe could have
taken heart from that precedent to know that G-d is in essence a compassionate
and merciful judge. However, there was one problem. The reason why Avraham
lost the case was because he too was arguing before the Heavenly Tribunal.
Although his argument had merit, nevertheless, the judge knew with absolute
certainty that there were not 10 righteous men. If so, Moshe was in the very
same situation. If G-d Himself says, "Go down because your nation has
worshipped an idol", and all are to blame, it does not leave much room to
The best proof of how ridiculous Moshe's position was can be seen in the
timing of his defense. Moshe had been on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights.
As the events of the Golden Calf unfolded, he wasn't present to witness them.
G-d informed him that the Jews had sinned. In the very next verse in the
Torah, before Moshe had a chance to visit the crime scene or speak to the
people in preparation of their defense, Moshe began his defense! The reason
why Moshe didn't argue against G-d's "rush to judgment" is because the judge
was G-d! If G-d said that the events occurred, as they occurred, than there
was no need to investigate further. Therefore, given the irrevocable fact of
their betrayal of G-d, what could Moshe have argued?
The Torah recorded Moshe's first argument as, "What will the non-Jewish
world say; and "What will happen to your promise to the fore-fathers?" From a
strategic point of view, both arguments appear quite weak. First of all, G-d
was never concerned with what others might say. In the end, time was on His
side. Given another 500 years, the events of the Golden Calf would be a
matter of ancient history, and the new and improved Bnai Yisroel would be
evidence of His absolute control and power. Additionally, what a lesson the
world would have learned. G-d does not play favorites! Even when His own
children sin, justice must prevail!
The argument of fulfilling His promise to the fore-fathers was also weak
because He clearly said to Moshe, "…And I will make you into a great nation."
(32:10) G-d's promise to the forefathers would be fulfilled so long as a
descendent would survive and inherit the land of Israel. In essence, Moshe, a
grandchild of those same forefathers would have become the next "father" of
The Gemara in Berachot 32a explains Moshe's real strategy in defense of
the Bnai Yisroel. Rather than argue the merits of the case, Moshe fully
accepted G-d's presentation of the case as fact. Moshe's argument then
focused on the intrinsic nature of the human and how it must modify G-d's view
of justice. Moshe argued that G-d Himself must accept partial blame for what
had happened. It was G-d who had created a free willed creature that was
inherently flawed. It was therefore inevitable that this creation would fail
at some point. It was inevitable that he would, at some time, betray his
Creator! As it says, "There is no such thing as a Tzadik who only does good
and will never sin.
The nature of the human is such that he must sin! Therefore, Moshe
argued, "If You created humans who inevitably will sin, You must have also
established a system of justice that allows these flawed creatures to learn
from their mistakes! There must be the possibility of Teshuva - repentance;
or else Your entire system of justice does not make any sense! Who creates a
flawed creature that will eventually sin and have to be destroyed?! That
could not have been Your intention! When you promised the forefathers that
their children would survive and inherit the land of Israel they knew, as did
You, that their grandchildren would not be perfect. They knew that You knew
that there would be problems, especially given the rebellious nature of their
children, and the promised size of the nation. Therefore, You must have had
it in mind that you would give them another chance, and forgive them for their
Moshe's argument regarding the other nations was founded upon the same
strategy. The Jews were intended to be role models for the rest of the world
as how to integrate G-d into their daily lives. If at the very first major
sin G-d would destroy the sinners and not give them a second chance to learn
from their mistakes, the rest of the world would learn that it is impossible
to integrate G-d into normal daily living. Normal life involves making
mistakes. Normal life includes the expectation that the human will fail. Why
even attempt to have a relationship with G-d if I know that I am destined to
fall off the tightrope of life without the benefit of a safety net?
Therefore, in order for G-d to accomplish His stated purpose in choosing the
children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov, as His "kingdom of priests", G-d had
to forgive the Bnai Yisroel and give them a second chance!
As the Torah relates, G-d accepted Moshe's argument and forgave the Bnai
Yisroel. Moshe, through his determination to save his people, had proven his
personal claim on the leadership of the nation. He had set the standard by
which all other leaders would be judged. He had established "unqualified
love" as the foundation for greatness. As the ultimate servant of G-d, Moshe
emulated his Master. Just as G-d loves every person without qualification, so
too, Moshe loved every Jew without qualification.
However, unqualified love does not mean that actions do not have
consequences - just the opposite! Moshe himself punished the 3,000 people who
were directly involved in the sin of the Golden Calf. Unqualified love means
that you always do what is in the best interest of those whom you love.
Therefore, punishment, if it is truly warranted and properly executed, can be
the greatest expression of unqualified love.