From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(written by his grandson HaRav HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Moshe’s Astonishing Defence of Am Yisrael for their Sin of the Golden Calf!
This Shabbat we shall read Parashat Ki Tissa, and we shall read the episode of the Golden Calf. Who won’t be pained when they read this episode? How can it be that such a thing happened, after Parashat Yitro which was on the 6th of Sivan (Matan Torah - the Giving of the Torah), the episode of the Golden Calf followed on the 17th of Tammuz, in total just 40 days after Matan Torah. Already, “While the King was still at Sinai my malodorous deed gave forth its scent as my Golden Calf defiled the covenant” (Shir HaShirim 1:12), they were already sensing the smell of the calf. How is such a thing possible? How did our fathers do such a thing? Had their minds become confused? And even though our chachamim said that the Eruv Rav [the Mixed Multitude - these were a large group of Egyptians who mischievously came out of Egypt with the Bnei Yisrael], were the ones who made the Golden Calf, it is still hard to comprehend, how did the Bnei Yisrael remain silent?
Rather the Bnei Yisrael said, Moshe Rabbeinu has gone, we have seen how he had spoken with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and he was the middleman between us and HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Now we have no Moshe. If we want to pray to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we cannot for we aren’t worthy for such a thing. Indeed a simple private soldier may not speak with the Defence Minister or with the king. There are degrees of rank where everyone talks to the one above them with each person having someone more senior than themselves. If so, we too before the King, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, require an intermediary who will speak on our behalf.
The Bnei Yisrael knew that there are four images on the “Heavenly Throne”. An ox, a lion, an eagle and a person [see Yechezkel 1:10]. Which are alluded to in the passuk, “Hashem’s entourage is twice 10,000, thousands of angels” (Tehillim 68:18), [the Hebrew word] “shinan” [meaning angels] stands for the [four Hebrew words] shor (ox) nesher (eagle), aryeh (lion) and ne’eman [lit. trustworthy] - referring to a person. If so, the Bnei Yisrael said we aren’t worthy to speak with a lion, so we shall choose the least of them, which is the ox. We shall fashion for ourselves an ox and it will be an intermediary between us and HaKadosh Baruch Hu. However they didn’t have much gold because at the beginning Aron said to them, “Take the rings off the ears of your wives and children…Bring them to me” (Shemot 32:2) and when they came to their wives, they women refused to give them their jewellery, they said to them you are fools! Just now you received the Torah and now you want to make a molten calf?! Therefore it only states regarding the men, “All the men took off their earrings and brought them to Aron” (ibid. 3), however the men’s earrings were only a few and therefore an ox didn’t come out but instead a small calf.
They fed the calf manna, they skipped their food and gave it to the calf and were rejoicing, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and then got up to enjoy themselves” (ibid. 6). Therefore HaKadosh Baruch Hu became very angry with them and considered destroying them, “He said He would destroy them - had not Moshe, His chosen one, stood in the breach before Him to turn away His wrath from destroying” (Tehillim 106:23). Moshe Rabbeinu stood and prayed to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that He forgive Am Yisrael. What did he say to HaKadosh Baruch Hu? “O Hashem, why unleash Your wrath against Your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a show of force?” (Shemot 32:11). It is very surprising, what response is this? What is Moshe saying to Hashem? That He forgive His people because He brought them out with great power and a show of force? On the contrary, if HaKadosh Baruch Hu did so much for Am Yisrael, then all the more so that they must adhere to His will. This was an ingratitude to make the calf, if so, what did Moshe mean?
We shall explain this with a parable. It is analogous to a man who was respected and wealthy, when suddenly his wife had a heart attack and died. He was left alone. After a year, he said to himself, “It is not good for man to be alone” [see Bereishit 2:18]. He called a matchmaker and asked him to find for him a good wife. After a few days the matchmaker came to him and said, “Look, I was at the central bus station, and I went into a restaurant to eat. Behold I saw that it was managed by a particular woman. I looked at her and I saw that she is a modest and wise lady, observant and astute, I thought to myself that she is suitable for you! Perhaps you will go yourself to that restaurant, and see her for yourself.” The wealthy man agreed and he went to that restaurant, he sat down to eat and saw how the woman behaves modestly, with purity and with fear of Heaven. She found favour in his eyes. He returned to the matchmaker and asked him to arrange the match.
The matchmaker went and spoke with the lady, he said to her, “Look, so and so is interested to meet you with the view to marry you. What do you think?” The lady thought that the match will find favour in her eyes, however, she had many debts, because she had invested a lot into her restaurant and currently she had debts to pay and so she thought that maybe in 6 months she will have everything under control. So she requested that he wait 6 months for her, and then afterwards they may marry.
The matchmaker came to the wealthy man and told him everything she had said that he must wait for her for 6 months. The wealthy man said, “Fine, we shall wait 6 months!” After a couple of days, he regretted it. He rang the matchmaker and said to him, “What is the problem? So she has debts? I will pay off her debts!” The matchmaker went to the woman and told her what the rich man had said. The woman said, “Here is the record of debts.” The matchmaker went and presented the ledger to the rich man, and immediately the rich man said, “I agree that as soon as we meet and agree to marry that I will pay off the debts.”
A few days passed and the man and woman arranged to go to go to the office of the religious council in Yerushalayim to register for marriage. Beforehand the rich man arrived at the lady’s restaurant, however, to ensure that they didn’t go whilst hungry, they agreed to eat something. The woman began to prepare a dough to fry delicious pancakes. The rich man sat waiting until he was frustrated, for he was afraid that perhaps the religious council will be closed, and then they will have to delay the wedding by another day. So he said to the lady, “Leave it, let’s already go, we don’t need to eat!’ The lady agreed, however she took one bag and in it were some pancakes which weren’t yet fried. The rich man asked her, “Why do she have to take these pancakes?” She replied, “I just want to!” She took them with her and they went together to the religious council.
When they arrived they saw an announcement that today there is a council strike and therefore there is no public reception! The man struck his head, “Boy O boy! What luck!” But he didn’t remain inactive, he went to the Chief Rabbi’s office and said to him, “See my master the rav, we are G-d fearing people and now we cannot register to get married and furthermore, according to the law it is impossible to arrange a wedding date less than a month from the date of registration. Therefore I ask that you please write for me a letter to the official that he register the marriage immediately tomorrow morning, and that he register me in such a way that the chuppah will be in just another week!” The rav agreed and wrote a letter to the official. The next day the rich man came to the official and the wedding date was fixed for one week and rich man was very happy.
The lady said to the rich man, “What, the wedding will be in one week? How will I turn up in these clothes? I need to buy a wedding dress and clothes for the week of sheva berachot!” The rich man replied to her, “No problem! In Tel Aviv there is a “Kolbo Shalom”, and they have all the clothes you will need, let’s go together and I will pay for everything!” They went to Kolbo Shalom and the lady found clothes which she liked. She went to the fitting room and tried on the new garments, whilst placing her old ones on a chair. The rich man took the old garments and put them in his bag. The lady asked him, “Why are you taking these garments?” He replied to her, “Why are you bothered? These garments aren’t befitting you! You need beautiful and new garments and not ones which are worn out!” The lady agreed.
They celebrated the wedding with joy and splendour. Chief rabbis came, and other respected people and everything went well. However, in the middle of week of celebrations a row broke out between the rich man and his new wife. He was shouting from one side and she was shouting from the other side. The rich man rushed and grabbed his bag, he opened it and took out the lady’s clothes, he said to her, “Look! How can you speak to me like this?!” And whilst he was holding her old clothes he continued to shout, “You wore rags! And I made you into a queen! And this is how you speak to me!”
The lady also ran to the other side and whilst holding in her hand the bag with the pancakes which weren’t properly fried, she retorted back to him, “You see! Who is running after whom? [See Kiddushin 2b.] Even to eat this you didn’t have time! Did I want you or did you want me? Why are you screaming?” The husband immediately calmed down, he realised that he went too far with his words and reconciled for good with his wife. This is the parable.
And now for the analogy. HaKadosh Baruch Hu was angry with Am Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu came before Him and said, “You said, ‘…they will be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years’ (ibid. 15:13) and in the end Am Yisrael were only enslaved for 86 years! [See Seder Olam Rabbah ch. 3.] And you HaKadosh Baruch Hu changed the calculation and reckoned the 400 years completely differently and came before Paro and said, ‘Let My people leave, and let them worship Me’ (Shemot 7:16) and Paro didn’t agree for Am Yisrael were meant to be slaves for 400 years! And yet you Ribono shel Olam gave Paro plague after plague after plague, ‘…with great power and a show of force’ (ibid 32:11) and you brought out Your people from Egypt.” “Now” Moshe said to Hashem, “Who is running after whom? You hurried to redeem Am Yisrael and if so it isn’t correct to be angry with them.”
Moshe Rabbeinu is considered the “Raya Mehemna” - “Faithful Shepherd” [as he is described in numerous places in the Zohar HaKadosh], and his words bore fruit (were effective), for Hashem replied to him, “I will grant forgiveness as you have requested” (Bamidbar 14:20).
Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach!