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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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ואתה קח לך בשמים ראש

Now you, take for yourself choice spices. (30:23)

The Ohr HaChaim observes that the command to Moshe Rabbeinu regarding the Shemen HaMishchah, anointing oil, is different from the other commands concerning the construction of the Mishkan. Regarding the other aspects of the Mishkan, Hashem spoke to Moshe in second person. His intention, however, was that Moshe convey His instructions to a surrogate to perform the actual work. Not so concerning the anointing oil which, in this case, Hashem wanted Moshe to produce from ingredients which Moshe himself would donate. While the original call to donate the various items needed for the construction of the Mishkan included Moshe as…

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ונתנו איש כפר נפשו

Every man shall give Hashem an atonement for his soul. (30:12)

The Baal HaTurim observes that the word, v’nasnu: vov, nun, saf, nun, vov, is a palindrome (in this instance, a word which reads the same backward as forward). This prompts him to posit that one who gives to tzedakah, charity, does not lose his contribution; rather, he receives it back. Hashem sees to it that one’s good deeds are not forgotten. What he gives to others will eventually be returned to him. Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, notes another palindrome in the Torah: V’hikeihu, “And he will strike him” (Bereishis 32:9), which refers to Eisav’s striking one of Yaakov Avinu’s camps….

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ויאמר אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך ... ילך נא ד' בקרבנו ... וסלחת לעונינו ולחטאתנו ונחלתנו.

And he (Moshe) said, “If I have found favor in Your eyes…let my Master go among us…and pardon our iniquity and our sins, and take us as Your own possession.” (34:9)

On the first day of Selichos we plead with Hashem: Pnei na el ha’telaos v’lo l’chataos; “Turn to our sufferings and not to our sins.” We understand that we have failed to keep our commitment to Hashem. He has given us so much and asked only that we maintain our fidelity to Him, that we observe His commandments. We failed because of all that is going on in our lives: troubles, problems, adversity, economic issues, health issues, spousal issues, children issues. Our mind is overburdened with telaos, tzaros, troubles. The Gaon, zl, m’Vilna was an outspoken proponent of aliyah, emigration,…

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ילך נא ד' בקרבנו כי עם קשה ערף הוא

Let my Master go among us; for it is a stiff-necked people. (34:9)

Hashem revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu His Yud Gimmel middos, Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, which signify that Hashem will forgive us out of a sense of Divine compassion. Understandably, we are not always worthy of His absolution. Thus, these Attributes come into play to guarantee that Hashem will never turn His “back” on us. Following the last of the middos, Moshe asks of Hashem, Yeilech na Hashem b’kirbeinu, “Let my Master go among us.” Why does this request follow immediately after the Attributes of Mercy? In his inimitable manner, the Maggid, zl, m’Dubno explains with a parable. A peddler who would…

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