Parashas Ki Sissa

1. This week’s parashah relates the sin of the golden calf, which occurred while Moshe was still atop Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from Hashem. After telling Moshe what the people had done, Hashem declared (Shemos 32:9-10): “I have seen this people and – behold – it is a stiff-necked people. And now desist from Me, and let My anger flare up against them and I will annihilate them, and I will make you a great nation.” Moshe pleads with Hashem to show the people mercy, and in the end Hashem agrees to do so. The Torah relates (ibid. 32:14): “And Hashem recanted from the evil that He declared He would do to His people.”
The Gemara teaches (Berachos 7a): “Every single word that goes out from Hashem’s mouth for good, even on condition, He never retracts.” The Gemara proves this point from the case of Moshe. In the quote above, Hashem told Moshe He would make him into a great nation, and the Gemara states that, indeed, Moshe was the forebear of a group of over 600,000 descendants.
The Maggid remarks that we see an indication of this in the Torah’s report that “Hashem recanted from the evil that He declared He would do to His people.” It was from the evil that He declared He would do to His people that He recanted, but He did not recant from His promise to make Moshe into a great nation.
2. In the aftermath of the sin, Hashem proclaimed before Moshe His thirteen attributes of mercy (Shemos 34:4-7): “Hashem, Hashem, God, Merciful and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Who Preserves Kindness for thousands of generations, Who Forbears Iniquity, Rebellious Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses.” Afterward, Moshe pleads with Hashem (ibid. 34:9): “If now I have found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, let my Lord go in our midst, for it is a stiff-necked people, and You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your estate.” Moshe’s justifying his request by saying that the Jewish People is a stiff-necked people is very strange, for this was the very reason that Hashem had previously given for sending an angel with them rather than going with them Himself (ibid. 33:2-3): “I shall send an angel ahead of you …. I shall not ascend among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I annihilate you on the way.” The Maggid explains the matter with a parable.
There was a merchant who sold small pieces of silk and other fine cloth suitable for repairing clothes with places that had worn out or torn. He once traveled to a province where there was no silk or similar cloth at all, and people wore only clothes of linen or wool. He went from city to city and from county to county but no one bought from him. The merchant was very surprised with his lack of success. People told him: “Didn’t you know that in these parts people don’t wear clothes made of the type of material you sell? That is why there is no need for your merchandise here. You should travel only to provinces where people wear clothes of this type of material, and then you will do very well.”
The parallel is as follows. Moshe heard Hashem proclaim before him His thirteen attributes of mercy, attributes suited to repairing the spiritual damage people do to themselves by sinning. This proclamation gave Moshe an opening to make his request. He told Hashem: “If you send an angel with us, and You Yourself remain in Heaven, You will not have the chance to put these atttributes of mercy into action. There are no sinners in Heaven, and thus no need for spiritual repairs. So, instead, travel among us, for we are a stiff-necked people prone to sin from time to time. Then You will have ample opportunity to deploy Your attributes of mercy – You shall forgive our iniquity and our sin.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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