Ki Sisa – In the Courtroom of Hashem

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In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we witness the sin of the Golden Calf and the tragic ramifications it had on the Jewish people and the world throughout history. After Moshe came down from Mount Sinai and broke the tablets it says: “Then he took the calf they had made, burned it in fire…on that day some three thousand men fell from among the people…And now, if You forgive their sin But if not…Behold My angel will go before you. But on the day I make an accounting [of sins upon them], I will bring their sin to account against them…” Then the Lord struck the people with a plague… The Lord spoke to Moshe: “Go, ascend from here… And Moshe took the tent and pitched it for himself outside the camp, distancing [it] from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting, and it would be that anyone seeking the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp” (Shemos excerpts from perakim 32, 33).

The Ralbag learns a lesson from these pesukim in relation to middos

[character development]

. This is that it is not befitting for a person to ask forgiveness for a sin on behalf of others, as long as the sinner still is holding on to the sin. For this reason Moshe only requested from Hashem to forgive the Jew’s sins after the golden calf was destroyed, and the rebels killed. However, since not all the rebels were completely wiped out at that time, and although Hashem accepted his words, he said that those who had sinned against Him should be erased from His Book, and the rest of the rebels who followed the calf should be plagued. But Hashem promised Moshe that He would not take away their inheritance of The Land because of their sin. In this manner He forgave their sins. However Hashem still had not attached to them His Personal Divine Providence, hashgacha pratis, lest they would sin to him. For Hashem brings bad to those He loves as rebuke, and they escaped from that bad as Moshe requested, but the bad that automatically came as part of the system of consequences eventually caught up with them; as it says: “But on the day I make an accounting [of sins upon them], I will bring their sin to account against them” (Shemos 32:34). This destiny Moshe did not try to save them from, since it is inappropriate for a person to ask forgiveness for a sinner while the sinner is still holding on to the sin. Therefore Moshe did not request that Hashem’s Personal Divine Providence, hashgacha pratis, would cling to the Jews as long as their hearts were far from Him. Rather, he conducted himself with reprimand by distancing his tent from them until they subjugated their hearts and returned to Hashem. After that he requested that Hashem’s Personal Divine Providence would cling to them.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

If you analyze the Ralbag carefully you’ll see that there are two stages of dealing with the sin which are being addressed here. We are going to gain a slight glimpse into how we can approach Hashem with our sins. First and foremost, in order to even ask Hashem to forgive us, we must remove ourselves from the sin we have committed, for Hashem doesn’t simply overlook sin for no reason. The perpetrators must take steps to fix the problem before Hashem begins to forgive, and possibly forget. For this reason Moshe destroyed the idol and sent the Levite family to murder all the primary accomplices. Only then was Moshe able to begin to daven to Hashem to not annihilate the Jewish people and to promise that they would still inherit The Promise Land, The Land of Israel.

However that wasn’t enough, because there are underlying reasons and intents for any sin, which are harder to get rid of. But in this case, in order for Hashem to apply his Divine Providence on every individual as a person, and not just as a collective, they had to be cleansed of the underlying emotion that caused them to sin to begin with.

This itself is a telling lesson, for it seems, according to the Ralbag, that because of the consequence of our actions, Hashem out of his love and mercy for His precious children, will not shine His Personal Divine Providence on a sinner who has not psychologically changed his mind, since it would just do more harm than good. This is because of His close relationship with his righteous children; it would behoove Him to rebuke us in order for us to mend our ways.if He was so close to us, therefore Hashem does not give special individual attention to His children when they are sinning, in order to not give dangerous rebuke that is deserved.

For this reason Moshe removed himself from the camp, as if to show his own disgust in their actions, so that they will humble themselves and remove the haughtiness which caused them to sin.

Why did Moshe get involved in this manner by separating his tent from the rest of theirs? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient just to lecture them and verbally take them through the process of how to properly conclude their teshuva, the repentance process of clearing their minds and hearts of any lingering evil intent, no matter how minute it was? Especially since it is really unimaginable at this point that they weren’t humiliated enough for the sin they had committed, especially after they reached such heights at the receiving of the Torah just days before, and then realizing how they quickly came crashing down with the sin of the golden calf, they must have already felt utter embarrassment and disgrace before Hashem as is. Why did Moshe have to dig it in more by separating his tent from the rest of them?

We can learn a very important lesson in how to treat our children, students, or anyone, when they have done something wrong and you want to help them correct their ways. That is, that the most effective way to help a person change is not just to tell them what they did wrong and how to fix it, or even to lead by example, but to put them into the position that they will be forced to figure out, on their own, how to fix the problem. It will make a greater impression on them in the long run, even if they are feeling betrayed in the short term. For this reason, even though the Jewish People must have already begun to feel a tremendous amount of remorse over what they were involved in but Moshe separated himself from them so that they will come to the realization that they had to be even more humiliated in order to wipe out any negative feeling inside them and to completely humble themselves.