In this week’s parsha we return to narrative after hearing of the detailed law codes and instructions for building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). We read of the Golden Calf and the anger of both Hashem and Moshe. When the news is broken, we witness Hashem in a fit of anger promising to destroy the Israelites immediately, and begin anew with Moshe (32:10). Moshe, understandably, thinks this is a rash idea, and pleads with Hashem to remember Hashem’s promise to the forefathers, and the fact that the nations of the world will think less of Hashem (32:11-13). This convinces Hashem, who then allows Moshe to go down Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) to solve the problem himself (32:14-15). After breaking the tablets and grinding up the ashes from the Golden Calf and forcing the Israelites to drink it (32:19-20), Moshe gathers to himself the Levites, and instructs them as follows: “And he said to them: thus said Hashem the God of Israel: each man shall take his sword, pass through the camp from gate to gate and kill your brothers and friends and relatives. And the Levites did as Moshe asked, and three-thousand men fell from the nation on that day” (32:27-28, translation mine). What is going on here? Moshe’s gut reaction to this sin was to spare the people, and he successfully convinced Hashem of his way of seeing things – only to turn around and, after reflection, order the Levites to go ahead and kill their own kinsman anyways! This strikes me as worse than Hashem’s response in two ways. First, Hashem calmed down over time, seeing that destroying the entire people was an unnecessary shedding of blood, while Moshe got more violent as time went on. Second, if the end result was that thousands of people were to die for this sin, better that it be from Hashem in a fit of anger than at the hands of fellow Israelites, as that leaves bereaved family members needing to interact daily with the Levites who slew their husbands, brothers and sons. Finally, Moshe invokes Hashem’s command when asking the Levites to kill their kinsmen, and yet Hashem commanded no such thing!
A baffling aveirah
Why so much death?