Parashas Ki Sissa

This week’s parashah relates the episode of the golden calf. Hashem tells Moshe of the people’s sin, and then tells him that He is going to destroy the people and start a new nation from him. Moshe pleads with Hashem to spare the people, saying (Shemos 32:11-12):
Hashem, why should Your anger flare up against Your people, whom You took out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak out, saying: ‘With evil intent He took them out, to kill them in the mountains, and to eradicate them from the face of the earth’? Relent from Your flaring anger, and recant the evil against Your people.
The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 43:2):
Scoffing men set a city ablaze (Mishlei 29:8) – this refers to the nation Yisrael, who set a blaze [of destruction] through the calf they made. … And wise men turn back anger (ibid., end) – this refers to Moshe, who turned back Hashem’s anger through his advocacy.
The Maggid sets out to explain this Midrash. He notes that Moshe’s plea on the Jewish People’s behalf involved two arguments. The first argument was that Hashem should show the Jews mercy, for they had just come out of Egypt – a land riddled with idolatry – and thus were not to blame for slipping into a form of worship resembling idolatry. The second argument was that Hashem should spare the people, for if He destroyed them, the Egyptians would say that He took the people out of Egypt with evil intent. We may wonder why Moshe advanced both arguments; seemingly either one would have been enough. Moreover, the first argument intimates that Hashem would be treating the Jews unfairly by destroying them for their misdeed, and thus seems to accuse Hashem of acting unjustly. Why did Moshe use such an audacious argument when he did not have to?
The Maggid answers this question through a parable. A man bought his son an expensive Shabbos suit. The first time the boy wore it, he went out playing with his friends. They cast him into the mud, ruining the suit. On that particular Shabbos, the father had eminent guests visiting him. They were all sitting around the table, and then the son came in with his suit still dripping with muddy water. The father was incensed, but he held his anger back in order not to make a scene in front of his guests. He kept still, anxiously waiting for the guests to leave so he could give the boy a thorough scolding. One of the guests noticed the father’s agitation, and he sought to save the boy from the impending punishment. He said: “I see you are very angry at your son. But he is not to blame. I saw him through the window, heading for the Beis Midrash with a Gemara in hand, when a drunk came along and threw him into the mud.” Now, all the guests played a role in sparing the boy from punishment, but the guest who presented the alibi accomplished more than the rest of them. The other guests provided the boy protection only while they were still seated at the father’s table, but once they left their influence would cease. The guest who presented the alibi, on the hand, provided the boy protection that would last even after all the guests left.
The parallel is as follows. Moshe knew that the argument about what the Egyptians would say would suffice to keep Hashem from destroying the Jewish People on the spot. But he realized that this argument would protect the Jews only as long as the Egyptians were still around. Once the Egyptians died out, the protection would fall away. Moshe therefore felt compelled to advance the argument claiming that the Jews were not to blame for their sin; only this argument would provide the Jews lasting protection from a Divine show of wrath.
The Maggid presents an additional analogy that enables us to understand the Midrash with which we began. Suppose someone dumps a pile of coals and timber in the middle of a city. Not only is the spot where the coals and timber were dumped in jeopardy; other areas are also in jeopardy of damage from flames lashing out. Thus, putting out the fire at the source saves not only the immediate area, but also outlying areas. Similarly, the sin of the golden calf was like a fire. It threatened not only the wilderness generation, but also future generations of Jews. And so the Midrash expounds: “Scoffing men set a city ablaze – this refers to the nation Yisrael, who set a blaze [of destruction] through the calf they made.” And then the Midrash continues: “And wise men turn back anger – this refers to Moshe, who turned back Hashem’s anger through his advocacy. Moshe’s advocacy saved not only his own generation, but future generations as well.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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