27.7. Moses Again Implores God to Forgive the People’s Sin (32:30 35)

 (30) The next day Moses said to the people, “You have been guilty of a great sin. Yet I will now go up to the Lord; perhaps I may win forgiveness for your sin.”

(31) Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold.

(32) Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!”

(33) But the Lord said to Moses, “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record.

(34) Go now, lead the people where I told you. See, My angel shall go before you. But when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins.”

(35) Then the Lord sent a plague upon the people, for what they did with the calf that Aaron made.

(30) The next day Moses said to the people, “You have been guilty of a great sin”: In his earlier conversation with the Almighty, Moses did whatever he could to play down the people’s guilt, in order to reduce the likelihood and severity of their punishment. But in contrast, when addressing the people themselves, Moses pulls no punches whatsoever in pointing out their crimes.

Yet I will now go up to the Lord; perhaps I may win forgiveness for your sin: Moses can turn to God only after he has set the people on the path of correction, which includes (1) punishing the guilty, and (2) getting the people to acknowledge their crime.

(31) Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold”: Unlike Aaron, who told Moses, “You know that this people is bent on evil,” Moses tells God, “this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold.” That is, they are a worthy people overall; they only happened to go wrong in this one instance. This is an indication that Moses’ relationship with the people continues to grow stronger, and that he acknowledges their importance despite the crime they have committed.

(32) Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]: Although God has previously agreed to not destroy the Jews, He has not yet agreed to preserve their status as a chosen people. And that is precisely what Moses will ask for here.

But if not, erase me from the record which You have written!: This is where Moses becomes truly at one with the people: If the Jewish nation is destroyed, Moses’ existence too becomes bereft of all meaning. Moses has achieved this realization as the result of his reassessment of his values, as brought about by the crisis.

From the record which You have written!: Literally, “from the book which You have written.” The book that the Almighty writes is the “book of human life,” also known as the “book of history,” which is also the “book of the Torah.” All of these are one and the same book.

(33) But the Lord said to Moses, “He who has sinned against Me, him only will I erase from My record”: No man has the power to decide how his actions and accomplishments will be viewed in the broad historical perspective.

(34) Go now, lead the people where I told you: The nation’s mission remains unchanged, even though God has not yet responded to Moses’ request to preserve the special status of the Jewish people.

See, My angel shall go before you: The level of the Almighty’s direct involvement is decreasing. Henceforth, the Jewish people will be led not by God Himself, but only by His angel. This is another test for Moses – will he agree to these conditions, or will he insist on full restoration of the people’s former status?

But when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins: Only the immediate punishment is averted, but the sin itself remains.

(35) Then the Lord sent a plague upon the people, for what they did with the calf that Aaron made: Here we learn the final outcome of the story. Despite all of Moses’ imploring, and the commutation of the sentence, punishment for the people’s sin of idolatry is inevitable.

Aaron’s guilt too is once again emphasized, notwithstanding that he will not be punished immediately, but only decades later (Aaron’s punishment consisted in his not being allowed to enter the Promised Land).

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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