“God said, “My Presence will go with you and I will accede to your request.” (Exodus 33:14)
God is a slow learner. Fortunately, Moses is an excellent teacher who does some significant “managing up” this week.
In Parashat Ki Tisa the Israelites lose faith during Moses’ absence up on Mt. Sinai and worship the Golden Calf. This infuriates God, who decides to annihilate them and create a new nation from Moses and his descendants (Ex. 32:9). Apparently, God still hasn’t learned human beings are messy and imperfect and hard to manage: Adam and Eve disappoint, as does Noah’s entire generation, the builders of the Tower of Babel, and the residents of Sodom and Gemorah. According to some commentators, Moses reminds God there are no guarantees in life; who’s to say his own descendants will do any better?
Moses gives God four reasons for not destroying the Israelites. First, since the people belong to God, the loss is God’s. Second, if the Israelite’s disappear, God loses the ability to use the Exodus to establish sovereignty over the world. Third, the Egyptians will dismiss God’s power. Finally, God’s covenantal promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is enough to warrant extending mercy to the Israelites (Ex. 32:11-13). God reconsiders and relents (Ex. 32:14).
It is a little chutzpadik (Yiddish for “nervy”) of Moses to speak like that to God. But God gives Moses the opening by saying, “Leave me alone…” (Ex. 32:10) even before he says anything in support of the Israelites. Moses realizes he must make a case for them. He sees an educating moment, and takes it (unlike Aaron, who simply plays for time when pressed to create the Golden Calf). Not for nothing is our greatest leader called moshe rabbeinu, Moses, our teacher.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom