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ועתה אם תשא חטאתם ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת... מי אשר חטא לי אמחנו מספרי... ועתה לך נחה את העם

And now if You would but forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your book that you have written. Whoever has sinned against Me I shall erase from My book… And now lead the people. (32:32,33,34)

The Torah narrative relating the dialogue that ensued between Moshe Rabbeinu and Hashem is enigmatic. First, to which sefer is Moshe referring? Second, Hashem’s response to Moshe’s demand that his name be erased from the “book” appears, superficially, to suggest that Hashem was dismissing Moshe with prejudice. Yet, Hashem immediately tasks Moshe with leading the nation. How did indignation disappear only to be replaced with compassion? Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl (Seridei Eish), explains this as part of an earlier pasuk in which Hashem says to Moshe, V’Ata hanichah Li v’yichar Api bahem, v’e’escha l’goi gadol; “Desist from Me. Let…

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ויחר אף משה וישלך מידיו את הלוחות וישבר אותם תחת ההר

Moshe’s anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain. (32:19)

To break something which Hashem made is an act that transcends. Unquestionably, for someone of Moshe Rabbeinu’s stature to make such a move requires remarkable insight into what he was about to do. This was not a simple decision. Indeed, the fact that Hashem agreed with Moshe is in and of itself an indication that Moshe did not act out of anger, but rather, because he felt that it was the correct and proper thing to do. The commentators endeavor to provide a rationale to come to grips with this decision. Horav Shimon Shkop, zl, offers a novel explanation. He…

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ויאספו אליו כל בני לוי

And all Bnei Levi gathered around him. (32:26)

Moshe Rabbeinu issued a call to arms, and Shevet Levi, the tribe which stood strong, defying the rabble-rousers who created the Golden Calf, came forward in his support. What happened to the rest of the nation? In total, only three thousand men worshipped the molten idol. Where was everyone else? Did they not hear Moshe call out Mi l’Hashem eilai, “Whoever is for Hashem, join me!”? Horav Leib Chasman, zl, explains that, while one may not agree with the rebellion against Hashem and not support them in any way, he still may not be ready to take a stand against…

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לך רד כי שחת עמך... סרו מהר מן הדרך אשר צויתם עשו להם עגל מסכה

Go, descend – for your people has become corrupt… they have strayed quickly from the way that I have commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf. (32:7,8)

Hashem ordered Moshe Rabbeinu to return to his people. They were no longer worthy of his leadership. They had quickly strayed – they had made a molten idol. Upon reading the text, the first question that emerges is: Was this a digression in which they first strayed, and their turning away from Hashem ultimately led to the nadir of idol worship? Or, is it all one sin, in which the people strayed by creating and worshipping the idol? Let us return to the text: when Hashem informs Moshe that his people have strayed quickly. Does it really make a difference…

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ויאמר אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך ד' ילך נא ד' בקרבינו כי עם קשה עורף הוא

If I have favor in Your eyes, My Lord, let my Lord go among us – for it is a stuff-necked people. (34:9)

A superficial reading of the pasuk will cause the reader to pause and question Moshe Rabbeinu’s comment concerning the stiff-necked nature of Klal Yisrael. On the surface, stiff-necked does not appear to be a positive attribute. It denotes one who is imperious, overly-assertive, and pretentious. These traits may have positive sides to them, but Moshe was seeking to ameliorate their side – not to present it as an act of chutzpah by a people who seem to have audacity as part of their DNA. When seeking forgiveness for the nation, it would seem best to downplay their brashness. Horav Moshe…

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וביום פקדי ופקדתי עלהם חטאתם

On the day I make an accounting (of sins) I will bring their sin to account against them. (32:34)

The sin of the Golden Calf is mind-boggling. Klal Yisrael is essentially a holy people. In addition, this outrage occurred shortly after the Giving of the Torah. How could they have fallen to such a nadir, so fast? While a number of expositions focus on the nation’s spiritual/emotional level, the simple explanation for their actions is that they really did not perpetrate the sin. It was actually the eirev rav, mixed multitude of Egyptians, who joined our people as we were leaving, claiming allegiance to Hashem. They were the ones responsible for making the Golden Calf; they were the ones…

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אנא חטא העם הזה חטאה גדולה

The people have committed a grievous sin. (32:31)

One would think that Moshe Rabbeinu, who is presently interceding on behalf of Bnei Yisrael, would attempt to decrease the seriousness of their sin, not magnify it. Horav Yechezkel, zl, m’Kuzmir (Maamer Yechezkel) explains that the first step on the road to teshuvah, repentance, is hakoras ha’chet, recognizing and acknowledging that one has sinned. One who puts his head in the ground in an attempt to ignore his misdeed, or rationalizes his actions with a list of excuses to absolve – and even justify – his wrongdoing, will not repent. Even if he makes a feeble attempt at teshuvah, it…

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וישכימו ממחרת ויעלו עולות ויגישו שלמים וישב העם לאכל ושתו ויקומו לצחק

The next day they rose early, offered up burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they got up to make merry. (32:6)

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, posits that this pasuk offers us a window into the mindset of the idol worshippers. At first, it begins with burnt offerings, which are wholly burnt and offered up to the higher being whom they claim to worship. This step is filled with idealism. After all, the entire animal is offered up, indicating the participants’ desire to give up their money and their lives on the altar of idealism. They still think that something will happen; their idol will speak to them. This step does not last very long, because nothing happens – no response from…

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ויהי כאשר קרב אל המחנה וירא את העגל ומחלת ויחר אף משה וישלך מידו את הלוחות וישבר אותם

It happened that as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dances, Moshe’s anger flared up. He threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them. (32:19)

Hashem had informed Moshe Rabbeinu that the nation had sinned egregiously, so that he should descend the mountain and return to his people. What novel lesson did Moshe learn when he returned that provoked him to shatter the Luchos? Why did he wait so long? Simply, we might suggest that while he certainly believed Hashem, the matter was not yet engraved on his heart that the nation would be guilty of such treason. It is one thing to believe in Hashem unequivocally; it is another thing to be prepared to shatter the Luchos as a result of this belief. Seeing…

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וישמע יהושע את קול העם ברעה

Yehoshua heard the sound of the people in its shouting. (32:17)

Targum Yonasan makes an intriguing statement: “Yehoshua heard the sounds of the nation as they wept amid joy before the (Golden) Calf.” Apparently, Targum Yonasan translates b’reio as being derived from teruah, which is the most broken sound of the shofar, like a yevavah, whimper/wailing, but definitely not a joyful expression. How does one weep joyfully? The two are opposites. How were they filled with joy, yet cry at the same time? Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, cites an incident that occurred with the Alter, zl, m’Novardok, Horav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, which is illuminating. The Alter visited a town which was…

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