2003At the end of Moshe's forty day revelatory experience on Sinai, God reports the news that the people have strayed and are worshipping the golden calf. Before Moshe has a chance to respond, God says:
A Leader's Compassion: A Leader's Rage
"I see that this is a stiff-necked people. Now, let me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them, and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation." (Exodus 32:9-10)
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1. Why does God say, "Let me be..." Moshe hasn't said or done anything yet?
2. God is announcing that his anger has yet to blaze forth - why the warning?
3. What happens if Moshe walks away from his people - what does God promise?
4. What do we learn about Moshe that he defends his people instead of opting to become "a great nation" with a different group?
5. In light of Moshe's choice how do we understand his anger upon his return from Sinai - when he breaks to tablets?
According to Rashi, God hints to Moshe that Moshe has the capability to stop the people from being destroyed - it's as if he is saying indirectly that Moshe could literally hold him back and restrain God's rage. He also tempts Moshe by telling him that if the people are destroyed - you, Moshe - will still have a job with another people.
Moshe's love for his people comes to the fore, and Moshe chooses to defend the nation and protects them from destruction, and just as one who truly loves deeply, he is profoundly disappointed in them. In fact, he has assimilated God's wrath, and turns that anger toward the tablets, breaking them just as the tablets have been metaphorically smashed by worshipping the calf.
Moshe's humility, love and devotion are in great abundance in this small encounter. In God's presence, he puts the people first, but in the people's presence his anger and frustration reign. It is only fitting that some the people endure the wrath of Moshe while being spared the fury of their Creator.
Prepared by Avi Weinstein, Director, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
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