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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Choosing The People

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Moshe was up on Har Sinai receiving the Torah when Hashem told him, “You need to leave now. Your Jewish people have made themselves a Golden Calf. They have made a wrong turn and are heading in the wrong direction. They are dancing around the calf and worshipping it, saying ‘this is your god who took you out of Egypt.”

It was clear that the forty days on Har Sinai would not end successfully. Moshe would not receive the Torah.

Hashem gave Moshe some advice. “These people are stubborn.” He said, “Let me destroy the Jewish people. Keep the Luchos and start a new nation. I will make you great.”

Now Moshe had a choice: He could forsake the Jewish people and take the Luchos or he could stay with the Jewish people and, necessarily, break the Luchos. (Perhaps, he also had the option to retire).

The logical course of action was to forget about the Jewish people. The Jewish people had been complaining since Moshe first lobbied Pharaoh to let them go. The Jewish people deserved to be destroyed. Moshe deserved better.

Still, Moshe chose the Jews. He descended Har Sinai to join them and he shattered the luchos before their eyes. Over time, he helped them change their ways and finally grow to the point where they were ready to truly accept the second Luchos.

Moshe could have taken Hashem’s advice. He could have chosen the easy and logical way. He could have kept the Luchos and built a nation with his own family. Instead, he risked everything and stuck with the Jewish people.

What was Moshe thinking when he voluntarily left G-d’s presence and descended the Mountain? What motivated Moshe?

If we could ask Moshe this question, we would expect the answer to be profound: ‘My heart is with my people’, ‘I couldn’t see things any other way’, ‘I was blinded by my love’, or perhaps ‘they needed me, how could I forsake them?’

According to the Gemara, Moshe Rabeinu’s thoughts were quite different:

Moshe’s first motivation was logical. Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov had devoted their lives to G-d. G-d promised each of them that He would care for their children. If those promises were not a strong enough to keep a nation alive – there was no way that Moshe be able to successfully build a nation. 

Moshe’s second motivation was shame: “How will it look? People will say that I abandoned the nation I was leading to start a nation of my own”

It is difficult to believe that Moshe Rabeinu made such a selfless decision based on such selfish motives. He was afraid that his new nation wouldn’t work and he was afraid that it would look bad. Didn’t B’nai Yisroel themselves factor in? Weren’t they part of the equation?

About one hundred years ago in Russia there was a young yeshiva bochur who was a bit of a troublemaker. One morning he wanted to have a bit of fun so he tucked a goat in the Aron Kodesh of the bais midrash before davening. It was a day with krias haTorah so when the Aron was opened in the middle of davening the goat popped out and started prancing all over the bais midrash.

It didn’t require much investigation to identify the perpetrator. In short order the case was taken up by the faculty. The overwhelming opinion was to expel the young man but such a move would have drastic implications. Finally, the menahel of the yeshiva, who was the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe met with the boy. The principal asked him some questions and then asked him if there is any reason he should not be expelled from the yeshiva.

The boy responded very cleverly, “If you expel me from the Yeshiva”, he said, “You are not only expelling me. You are also expelling my children and my children’s children and their children for all generations.”

The menahel was impressed with the boy’s answer and allowed him to stay in yeshiva, on the condition that he stay away from all goats.

Moshe Rabeinu realized that it was not important to judge the Jewish people who stood at the bottom of the mountain. He needed to think about the descendents of their forefathers. They had strong roots and they would grow into a strong nation. At the moment it might be logical to abandon them, salvage the Luchos and start his own nation, but as a leader he knew that their past and their future were too powerful to be abandoned based on a momentary lapse.

By looking at the pragmatic realities of existing as a nation, Moshe did more than just ‘stick with his people’, he recognized them for who they were and acknowledged that no momentary situation could justify abandoning them forever.

Hashem offered Moshe the logical choice, but Moshe read between the lines. He recognized our past and helped us realize our future.

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