ויהי כאשר קרב אל המחנה וירא את העגל ומחלת ויחר אף משה וישלך מידו את הלחת וישבר אתם תחת ההר
And as Moshe approached the camp and saw the calf, and the dancing, and Moshe’s anger flared, and he cast the Luchos from his hand, and smashed them at the bottom of the mountain.
Year after year we read about the sin of the golden calf, and it remains as mysterious as ever. How could the Jewish People, after pledging נעשה ונשמע and witnessing the splitting of the sea, along with the revelation at Sinai, descend so quickly?
There are many explanations and theories, but it will probably always remain beyond our comprehension. The goal here is more to glean lessons than to really understand what went on back then.
The gemara in meseches Avodah Zara teaches us that the sin of the golden calf was to open the path of teshuva for the sinner. Even if an entire community sins, the path of teshuva is never closed, and we can always return to Hashem and His Torah. Rashi there implies that the confusion and temptation to find a replacement for Moshe was so strong, that it would have been impossible for Klal Yisroel to resist. The entire episode occurred and was recorded to teach the power of teshuva.
The Slonima Rebbe ztvk”l in Nesivos Shalom asks: ‘why did Moshe only get ‘angry’ when he approached the camp, and only then decide he needs to destroy the Luchos? After all, Hashem already stated that Klal Yisroel strayed, and Moshe already heard the noise emanating from the camp-what did he see more when he arrived’?
The Rebbe answers, that Hashem built into the neshama of Jew, the difference between right and wrong. Even if we sin, our conscience tells us so, and compels us to repent. This is the spark of holiness that we all have deep inside of ourselves.
The gemara in Chagiga states: כל העושה דבר ומתחרט בו מוחלין לו מיד anyone who sins, and regrets it, is forgiven immediately. This sensitivity is what ensures that in the end, we will always do teshuva.
Moshe was banking on all of this and hoped that Klal Yisroel would repent. True, they might be sinning grievously, however, Moshe was confident that they would eventually come to their senses and return. When he entered the camp, however, and saw the dancing and singing around the idol, this scared him, and he realized that he needed to do something drastic; how can they be rejoicing over the sin? Why don’t they at least feel bad about it? Moshe realized the only solution was to smash the luchos, and shock the people into realizing their mistake.
This is something we can take home with us; we all make mistakes and have setbacks; the key is to preserve the small voice inside us that will ultimately ensure our return.
Perhaps we feel the challenge was insurmountable, but at least we should feel bad about it!
May we all merit to return to Hashem in purity and reach our full spiritual potential!