Parsha Ki Tisa 5773: Hashem’s Tests and the Contrasting Actions of B’nei Yisrael and Moshe Rabbeinu

by Moshe Burt

After the event of B’nei Yisrael’s demand for a “god” resulted in the fashioning of the Egel Zahav (golden calf), Hashem seemed ready to put an end to this people (Sefer Shemos, Parsha Ki Tisa Perek 32, posukim 9 and 10):

Hashem said to Moshe, “I have observed the people, and they are an unbending group. Now do not try to stop Me when I unleash My wrath against them to destroy them. I will then make you into a great nation.”

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in her sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos (pages 145-147) outlines the scenario of how Hashem commanded Moshe to redeem the Jews from Egypt, how Pharoah refused to free them bringing about the resultant 10 Makkos [plagues], how Pharoah and the Mitzri army pursued them to the Reed Sea, how the Yam Suf split as the Jews crossed on dry land while the Mitzri army — men, chariots and horses sank.

Rebbetzin Smiles writes:

All of these Divinely orchestrated events were for the ultimate purpose of preparing the descendants of Yaakov to receive the Torah. By this point in time, the Jews had reached such spiritual heights that “even a maidservant at the Red Sea saw what the prophets Yechezkel and Yeshaya never saw.”

….Having just experienced a revelation greater than almost any other prophet in history, the people remained at the foot of the mountain. Moshe Rabbeinu “approached the fog where Hashem was, ” (Sefer Shemos Perek 20, posuk 18) and ascended Mount Sinai to receive the details of the Torah and bring them down to the Jews.

Forty days later, the Jews…. saw “that Moshe was late coming down from the Mountain.” The people gathered around Aaron and they said to him, “Rise and make us a god that will go before us, because this man Moshe who took us up from the land of Egypt — we do not know what happened to him.” (Sefer Shemos Perek 32, posuk 1)

Were they not recent witnesses to countless open miracles in Egypt and at Yam Suf? Did they not hear directly from Hashem forty days earlier, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Sefer Shemos Perek 20, posuk 3)

Rebbetzin Smiles explains:

Cheit HaEigel [the sin of the golden calf] was part of our destiny; it was part of Hashem’s plan all along. Rabbi Chaim Halpern explains (Sefer Shaarei Chaim, page 263) that Hashem orchestrated the circumstances so that the sin would happen at that time. Rashi elaborates, “It was a decree of the King [for the yetzer hara]… in order to give an opening to ba’alei teshuvah. For if the sinner will say, ‘I will not do teshuvah because I will not be accepted,’ they will say to him, ‘Go out and learn from the act of the Calf, that they denied [Hashem] and they were accepted [back] with teshuvah.’ According to this interpretation, had it not been for this grave sin and B’nei Yisrael’s subsequent successful teshuvah, sinners in future generations would have despaired.

….One might ask: If this predestined transgression was simply to teach us a lesson {about teshuvah}, why did it have to be such a radical sin with such severe consequences?

For it to be a powerful educational moment, all of the details needed to be taken to the extreme…. Future sinners will be encouraged when they look to the precedent that teshuvah can redeem even from the worst of sins and even an entire nation.

Hope is never lost. The teshuvah message from the Cheit HaEigel is alive in every generation…. We are never out of reach. Hashem will always receive our teshuvah and bring us back to Him.

So, this author asks; if the Eigel Zahav was a predestined transgression to expose the Jewish nation to a paradigm of teshuvah, why do we keep paying for the sin, in small part, with every other aveirah (sin) we commit to this very day and every time until the times of Moshiach?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the contrast between how B’nei Yisrael reacted to her test — her reaction when Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t arrive when they thought he would, i.e. the golden calf, and Moshe Rabbeinu’s reaction when Hashem was ready to destroy B’nei Yisrael.

B’nei Yisrael bit the bait of Hashem’s test: Moshe Rabbeinu’s seemingly delayed arrival back to the Camp brought to the surface the B’nei Yisrael’s serial complaints and lack of emunah. On the other hand, Hashem’s declaration that He would “unleash… wrath against them to destroy them” was met with these responses from Moshe Rabbeinu in two dialogues (Sefer Shemos Perek 32, p’sukim 11-14, 30-32 ) :

“Why should Egypt be able to say that You took them out with evil intentions to kill them… and wipe them from the earth. Withdraw your… anger, and refrain from doing evil to Your people.

“Remember Your servants, Avaraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. You swore to them by Your very essence, and declared that You would make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, giving their descendants the land as You promised…

The next day, Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go back up to Hashem and try to gain
atonement for your crime.”

Moshe went back up to Hashem, and he said, The people have committed a terrible sin by making a golden idol. Now, if You would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that you have written.”

In short, Am Yisrael took the bait of their destiny-changing test, while their leader Moshe Rabbeinu seems to have withstood what appears to have been Hashem’s ultimate test. Thus Hashem accepted the nation’s teshuvah, creating a destiny where the B’nei Yisrael has outlived her every oppressor. Can one even fathom the horrific destiny had Moshe NOT spoken up? It seems as if theB’nai Yisrael was saved, and continues to survive her oppressors on the merit of Moshe Rabbeinu’ pleadings.

We, today face multitudes of different tests, i.e. the divorced or widowed single parents and fatherless children, the level of caring for at-risk young people, businesses and their debt obligations, Kupat Cholim doctors, specialists and management — whether to deliver the level of medical care to which patients are entitled, or whether to continue in the same old ways of lusting for increasingly excessive profits at the cost of Doctor impatience, abrasiveness and bums-rush toward patients (brought on by daily patient quotas), approved co-pay medicine lists which are cure-limiting — often with aggregious side-effects on patients and their rates of recovery etc.

Other tests include diligently following up on one’s child’s education, or “greasing the rebbe” for protexia — one could go on and on with countless tests regarding issues at all levels of daily life, tests at home, at the table, tests at shul, tests at work and tests relating to how we treat our brethren and, on a collective national level, whether or not we cleave to and possess Eretz Yisrael. And if we fail various tests, at any particular time, Rebbetzin Smiles provides ideas and sources indicating that the sin of the golden calf produced the paradigm for teshuvah to this very day.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.