Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah recounts the sin of the golden calf. Moshe said to Hashem (Shemos 32:31-32): “I implore! This people has committed a grave sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now, if You will but forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out of the book that You have written.” The Maggid raises the question of why Moshe stressed the gravity of the sin. He offers several explanations.
One explanation is that Moshe sought to undercut the Adversarial Angel’s accusations against the Jewish People by adopting the role of prosecutor himself. Moshe acknowledged the gravity of the sin, but at the same time argued that the Jewish People were not to blame, for they had just come out of Egypt – a land riddled with idols. We have presented this explanation in detail previously (
A second explanation builds on an earlier verse, which states as follows (Shemos 32:11): “And Moshe pleaded (ויחל משה) before Hashem his God, and he said: ‘Why, Hashem, should Your anger flare against Your people?” In Shemos Rabbah 43:3, the Midrash notes that the word ויחל for pleading is similar to the word חילוי, a term that signifies sweetness – related to the Arabic word chalvah, meaning “sweet” and used to denote a sweet confection. The Midrash explains that Moshe was asking Hashem to “sweeten the bitterness of Yisrael and heal them.” Afterward, Moshe stressed the gravity of the Jewish People’s sin to show how much they needed Hashem to heal them.
The Maggid illustrates the point with a parable. Two paupers traveled together from city to city to beg for alms. One of them was extremely sick. Wherever the pair went, the healthy one would caution his companion to exert all possible effort to conceal his illness, for if people would know how sick he was, they would shun him and not let him come near their homes. Once the pair visited an inn where an expert doctor was also staying. The healthy pauper then told his companion: “Now is the time to exhibit openly all your ailments, so that the doctor will recognize them clearly. The more you exhibit your ailments and describe them to the doctor, the more complete your cure will be.” Similarly, Moshe deliberately expanded on the Jewish People’s sin, to bring out forcefully how spiritually ill they had become and how desperately they needed a cure.
In a third explanation, the Maggid says that Moshe was telling Hashem that the Jewish People had injured their souls so severely through the sin of the calf that it was impossible for them atone for this sin in the usual way – there was no way the people could bear the afflictions needed to purge them of the harmful effects of the sin. Moshe’s argument was along the lines of David HaMelech’s plea (Tehillim 25:11): “For Your Name’s sake, Hashem, pardon my sin, for it is great.” The sin of the calf was so great that it was beyond the usual correction measures – the only available course was to seek an outright pardon.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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