Forethoughts and Afterthoughts.
Commentary on the weekly Torah reading.
In memory of Father, Yosef Ben Zelig.
March 25th 1911 - May 2nd 2008
In memory of Mother, Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh.
June 9th 1925 - April 16th 2003
In memory of Uncle, Moshe Binyamin Ben Tzvi Hirsh.
December 12 1929 - February 2nd 2010
In Loving Memory of Moreinu Horav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh HaYeshiva Ner Yisroel
Chukas (Numbers 19-22)
Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24)
24:7 And he took the book of the Covenant and he read so that the people can hear. And they said, "We will do and we will (then) hear [understand] everything that G-D said."
The Nesivas Shalom commentary in an earlier Torah reading (Va'era verse 7:5, page 61) writes the following as the core reason for the Exodus.
The desired outcome in the Exodus was to bring about the final correction to the creation. The plan was to bring the Jewish people to Mount Sinai and to give them the Torah. These events would bring the world to completion. This final correction would have actually occurred then, had the Jewish people not sinned with the golden calf.
This remarkable statement is puzzling in light of the following Talmudic teaching, found in Avoda Zara 4b-5a.
Rabbi Yehoshua son of Levi said, "The Jewish people made the golden calf to give penitents the encouragement and hope they need so that that they can succeed in repenting."
The Talmud adds: This is consistent with what Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon son of Yochai. The Jewish people were not suited to perform that deed with the golden calf. So how could they have done it? This was made to happen so that we will be able to tell a community that sins to take as an example what happened to the Jewish people after they sinned. They were also a community and they succeeded in repenting.
In his commentary on this teaching, Rashi seems to be saying that it was decreed by Heaven that the Jewish people sin with the golden calf.
Besides itself being a puzzling teaching, it appears to be counter-proof to what the Nesivas Shalom wrote.
If G-D's purpose in the Exodus was to bring the world to completion, then why would G-D decree that the Jewish sin with the golden calf, as that affair caused this opportunity to be lost?
The following came to mind.
It is an unfortunate historical fact that stress and temptations of the Egyptian exile took a heavy toll on the Jewish people, to the point that we were on the verge of losing our mission and destiny.
You may recall this quotation from the Medrash:
When he came and told the Jewish people that they will be redeemed in this month they responded, "Moshe our teacher, how can this be? Egypt is littered with artifacts from our idol worship!" He responded back, "G-D wants to redeem you and is not looking at your idol worship Medrash Shir HaShirim (2:8b).
Elsewhere we are taught that had the Jewish people stayed in Egypt any longer, they would have reached the point of no return, because of their downward path. We therefore left after 210 years, not the 400 that was initially planned.
So in effect, the Exodus as it occurred was a bail-out.
But it was also a compromise. Had we been able to continue life in Egypt without risk for the remaining 180 years, that would have been our final experience with exile. The ensuing events after that exodus would have indeed brought the world to its final completion, known as the Messianic Era.
Scheduling this major event in the history of civilization at that time was not without cost. It would have occurred without our fully earning it.
We are taught elsewhere that the core purpose of our living on this Earth is to give us the opportunity to earn our eternal reward. Receiving the greatness that will occur in the afterlife without fully earning it has a taint of what is called "Nehama De'Kisufa,' bread of shame.
In effect, G-D was accepting a downgrade in the quality of our afterlife because of the level we were at, not on the level we once could have attained.
The Sinai experience was seven weeks afterwards, and a lot of things could have and did indeed occur.
We achieved a unique level of unity, standing at the foot of the mountain as one being, with one heart (Rashi 19:2).
We became very connected to G-D and entrusted Him to the degree that we declared, "We will do and we will (then) hear [understand] everything that G-D said."
These and other successes demonstrated that we had grown in quality and were no longer the same people who needed a bail-out. At that moment, Heaven saw that with the Torah as our light we did have the capability to stick out a searing exile for another 180 years and bring the world to completion, on our own merit.
We became able to afford Plan A and not have to settle for Plan B.
But Egypt was gone as far as we were concerned. There would be no turning back.
The replacement for the 180 years of excruciating exile in Egypt became what we now call Jewish History. The golden calf simply set us on this new track. Its true cause was our backsliding. Whatever additional suffering we endured became a correction for misdeeds in Egypt.
This answers the question we had on the Nesivas Shalom. He was talking about Plan B, which indeed existed but only for a short while.
This also explains to me why Aharon, a key figure in setting up the golden calf, was not disqualified from being our greatest High Priest.
May we soon see the light at the end of the thirty-three century-long tunnel that we have been painfully travelling in.
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