Parashas Eikev

In this week’s parashah, Moshe Rabbeinu reviews the episode of the golden calf. He says (Devarim 9:16-17): “And I saw, and behold, you sinned against Hashem your God. You made for yourselves a molten calf; you strayed quickly from the path Hashem commanded you. And I grasped the two tablets and I threw them from my two hands, and I smashed them before your eyes.” The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 46:1):
Moshe saw that the Jewish People had no leg to stand on, so he joined his soul to theirs and smashed the tablets. And he said to Hashem: “They sinned, and I sinned, for I smashed the tablets. If you pardon them, pardon me also.” Thus it is written (Shemos 32:32): “So now, if You forbear their sin” – then pardon my sin as well – “and if not, blot me out now from Your book that You have written.” R. Acha said: “He did not budge from there until Hashem turned aside their sin.”
The Maggid asks two questions about this Midrash. First, for what purpose did Moshe compound the people’s sin by adding a further sin of his own? Seemingly, this act would just increase Hashem’s wrath. Second, how did he link his sin to the people’s sin, telling Hashem that if He did not pardon their sin He should not pardon his sin either? There is no comparison between Moshe’s sin and the people’s sin, which approached idolatry [although the Kuzari says that it was not literally idolatry, because the people did not worship the calf, but rather meant it as a means to connect with Hashem].
The Maggid explains Moshe’s intent as follows. Hashem swore to the forefathers to bring blessing to their descendants. He could not violate His oath. Instead, He told Moshe (Shemos 32:10): “So let Me alone now, so that My wrath may flare against them and I may consume them, and I will make you into a great nation.” In other words, Hashem was going to fulfill His oath through Moshe, His chosen one, and his descendants. Moshe therefore smashed the tablets, so that he, too, would be guilty of a serious sin. This move, so to speak, undercut Hashem’s plan.
Regarding the Jewish People’s sin with the golden calf, the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 4b teaches that the Jewish People were not on so low a level as to commit such a sin, but rather they were led to it in order to give an opening to communities who wish to repent a communal sin. Had Hashem not pardoned the sin of the golden calf, there would be no such opening. And then Moshe’s sin, which was the sin of communal leader and thus comparable to a communal sin (for the community learns from and follows its leader), also would not be amenable to repentance. Accordingly, Moshe argued well when he told Hashem: “If you pardon them, pardon me also.” For the one was indeed dependent on the other.
The Maggid brings out the point further with a parable. A king had two prominent ministers. One was appointed to safeguard the royal treasury of copper coins, while the other was appointed to safeguard the royal collection of precious gems. The first minister was negligent in his duty, and most of the treasury of copper coins was stolen. The king got angry and put the minister in jail. He then summoned the second minister and told him: “From now on, you will also be responsible for the treasury of copper coins.” The second minister, who was a close friend of the first minister, said to the king: “I cannot conceal from you, my lord, that there was also a loss of a gem from the treasury of gems. And this gem, although quite small, was worth more than the entire treasury of copper coins. And so I fear that if you punish my colleague for his negligence, you will also punish me. I therefore ask you to do me a kindness and pardon the both of us and spare us punishment.” The second minister acted wisely, for he knew that the king could not find replacements as trustworthy as he and his colleague were, and he would therefore be forced to pardon them both.
The parallel is as follows. Moshe said to Hashem: “So now, if You forbear their sin – and if not, blot me out now from Your book that You have written.” The first half of the verse is apparently cut off in the middle, but given what we said above we can explain the verse very well. Hashem had already written in the Torah: “I will make you into a great nation.” Said Moshe: “Now that I also have sinned, regardless of whether You pardon the people’s sin or not, either way You will have to blot out from Your book the statement that You will make me into a great nation. If You pardon them, then they, and not I, will become the great nation. And if You do not pardon them, You will not be able to pardon me either, and so again I will not become a great nation.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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