This Shabbat my wife and I were luncheon guests at Ilana and David B’s table and this is a summary reworking of my Dvar Torah.
I first mentioned that the whole series of instructions we have been reading these past weeks in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) presents an odd building plan. The first thing to be described in the Aron (Altar). But that’s like, as an example, noting a fireplace first and then working out. But that was done to stress the importance of what is in the Mishkan, spiritual labor, rather than just the physical elements.
Then I noted two language oddities.
In the conversation Moshe has with God during the fiasco of the Golden Calf in Exodus Chapter 32, God tells Moshe verse 7
וַיְדַבֵּר יְ-וָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה, לֶךְ רֵד, כִּי שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
And the LORD spoke unto Moses: ‘Go, get yourself down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly;
But Moshe comes right back and tells God
לָמָה יְ-וָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
LORD, why are you angry against your people, that you brought forth out of the land of Egypt
It is almost comic.
Your people, no your people.
So, whose people are they? Of Moshe? Or of God?
Moshe does not retreat and argues: they are your responsibility. Do not pass it off to me.
A second language item that interested me was that the making of the Golden, or Molten, Calf had a second stage. Aharon builds an altar. Did he need to do that? Why?
וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו
The Hebrew word for ‘saw’ there is very close to ‘he feared’. Did he fear or,as the Midrash implies, he sought to delay as much as possible so that Moshe would return and resolve the difficulty? He had what to fear as Hur, who was first asked to make the Calf, was killed after he refused (input from Shabtai).
But the main theme is connected to these verses at 30-31:
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם: אַתֶּם חֲטָאתֶם חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה, וְעַתָּה אֶעֱלֶה אֶל יְהוָה אוּלַי אֲכַפְּרָה בְּעַד חַטַּאתְכֶם. וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּא חָטָא הָעָם הַזֶּה חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said to the people: ‘You have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the LORD, peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin.’ And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin
The Rebbe Yitzchak Kalisch of Worka comments that of all the things to say, why does Moshe seemingly increase the seriousness of the sin of the people? He had to say “a great sin”? Why needle God? What could he gain speaking thus instead of placating him?
His insight is that the situation could be compared to a case when a small child is playing on a table and falls off. If the injuries are minor, the father most probably would yell at the child and maybe even strike him. But if they are more serious, the father would rush to the child, comfort him and take him quickly for medical attention. The admonition would be saved for later, if at all.
Similarly, Moshe seeks to appeal, in a psychological sense, to God’s realization that, yes, the sin was great, almost unforgivable, but now is not the time to admonish or even punish but to reach out and save the people of Israel. The danger of losing the nation of Israel is in the balance.
So should we all relate to those close to us, or even farther away, who have erred or strayed.