We had a very dramatic Purim this year, because of the Coronavirus. In the holiday we learned of Esther’s moment of Challenge when Mordechai tells Esther: “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
While it happened 1000 years earlier, Moses also had a moment of challenge but not spelled out so dramatically as Esther’s moment was.
In the Parsha section of, Ki Tasa, after the making of the golden calf, G‑d informed Moses of the downfall of the children of Israel, and of the severe punishment that awaited them. They would die, and a new people, descendants of Moses, would take their places, to carry the torch of the Divine Law among the nations of the world.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik says until this moment, Moses just did what he was told. He took the job of leading the Jews anyway under duress, and did what he was told. The Rabbi uses the analogy of a Moses I and a Moses II. Before this “Esther” moment, he just followed orders. Now he stands up to G-d. He doesn’t disrespect G-d, he doesn’t tell him what to do by saying don’t put me in your Torah as most people think, but not to put me into the book of life as we pray for at Rosh Hashanah. He is the Captain of the ship and he asks to go down with the ship. That is his right, as every human being lives as long as he choses, even if he commits suicide. Suicide is a long term solution to a short term proplem, and against the Torah, because it is equivalent to committing murder (on yourself), but Moses demands to go down with the ship.
Moses went to God and said, “If you cannot give the people forgiveness, then blot me out from Your book which You have written.”
God responded, “Whoever has sinned against Me, him I will blot out from My book! But when I remember their sin, on that day, there will be a reckoning.” Then God sent a plague upon the people.
The Bible tells us that after the Israelites make the golden calf, God tells Moses to “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.” God doesn’t say my people, but your people. According to the Midrash, these people who became corrupt, and who were corrupting the rest of the nation, were part of the “many other people” (Exodus 12:38) who joined the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt just months prior – people that Moses accepted into the nation without advising with God.
According to rabbinical tradition, these rabble-rousers didn’t just mislead the nation at Mount Sinai. There were multiple times in the Israelites’ journey to the Holy Land when they called to return to Egypt or craved for physical desires, such as in Numbers 11:4: “The rabble with them began to crave other food,” trying to bring the whole of a nation down with them.
But these were a minority, and they shouldn’t have been able to overcome a large population. If this were only the truth. How many times have we been witness to a small minority of people, or people with a minority opinion, taking over their country and running it into the ground. How many people found themselves just “following orders”? Unfortunately, there are too many examples to list.
Moses was greatly distressed. In moving words, he prayed and implored G‑d to spare the Jewish people. Moses recalled G‑d’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and for their sake begged G‑d’s forgiveness. Finally, G‑d’s mercy was aroused, and He promised to spare the people of Israel. Moses now takes initiative on his own and like Esther becomes a new man and takes his Great moment of Challenge and becomes a new Man (Moses II)
Assured of G‑d’s forgiveness, Moses descended from Mount Sinai. Exactly forty days had passed since he had gone up, and in his hands he carried the Tables of Testimony, written by G‑d Himself. At the foot of the mountain his disciple Joshua awaited him, and together they approached the camp of Israel.
Now for a little humor:
A Clean Sweep
Moishe Goldberg, owner of Moishe’s Kosher Grocer, decided to do his friend Herb a favor and hire his grandson David, fresh out of college, to work in the grocery store. David reported for his first day of work and Moishe greeted him with a warm handshake and a smile, gave him a broom and said, “Your first job will be to sweep out the store.”
“But I’m a college graduate,” David replied indignantly.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that,” said Moishe. “Here, give me the broom – I’ll show you how.”