Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

Shemot 32:9: As a personal test of Moshe Rabbeinu

“9And the Lord said [va’yomer] to Moses: “I have seen this people and behold! they are a stiff necked people. טוַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֑ה רָאִ֨יתִי֙ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְהִנֵּ֥ה עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא:
“10Now leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them, and I will make you into a great nation.” יוְעַתָּה֙ הַנִּ֣יחָה לִּ֔י וְיִֽחַר־אַפִּ֥י בָהֶ֖ם וַֽאֲכַלֵּ֑ם וְאֶֽעֱשֶׂ֥ה אֽוֹתְךָ֖ לְג֥וֹי גָּדֽוֹל:”
Midrash Tanchuma to Parashat Tzav posits that the difference between the Hebrew words, daber (speak) and amar (say) is predominantly a difference in inflection and tonality. It considers the word “VaYedaber” as a harsh or strident way of communicating and “Amar” as a gentler, softer approach to the sharing of information.
Thus, the term “Daber” connotes an intentional distancing between the speaker and those being addressed, while “Amar” endeavors to underscore a closeness, a kind of intimacy, between the parties.
Q. So why is VaYomer – a form of amar – used in Shemot 32:9? After all, 32:10 would seem to require Va YeDaber!
An Answer: VaYomer is used because, at this point, the very survival of klal Yisroel depended solely upon Moshe Rabbeinu, whose fitness to lead them is here being tested.
How so? After the debacle of the chet egel (golden calf), Hashem tempts Moshe Rabbeinu to ditch the Israelites and save his own family from G-d’s wrath, in much the same way as Noach – a prior gilgul of Moshe Rabbeinu – saved his own family from the floodwaters and failed to pray for those of his generation.
Why does this matter? Because If Noach had gone beyond caring for his own family’s survival and had instead prayed for his generation, he could have saved the entire world from destruction. R Mordechai Yosef Leiner, Mei HaShiloach on Parashas Noach, Betzalel Phillip Edwards Edition. Noach could even have succeeded in bringing the Torah to that singularly evil and rebellious generation! Id.
So, subconsciously or otherwise, Moshe Rabbeinu’s hackles must’ve started to raise themselves when he heard G-d’s intimate tone of voice in 32:9, coupled with His stated intention to destroy the people in 32:10. For Hashem’s words of reproof for the people clearly are words of seduction, aimed right at Moshe Rabbeinu. G-d speaks to Moshe in dulcet tones: “YaYomer” – I will start all over again with you and your children.
Only this time, mindful of his continuing mission – and of the fact that he is a corporate soul like Adam, containing within himself all the souls of klal Yisroel – Moshe doesn’t take the bait. Instead, Moshe zealously advocates for klal Yisroel – including the erev rav (“*your* [Moshe’s] people [not My – G-d’s – people], whom *you* [Moshe, not I, G-d] led out of the land of Egypt” is interpreted in Mei HaShiloach as referring to the erev rav) – answering Hashem’s intimate tone of voice with intimate tones of his own, treating Hashem’s apparent frustration with “the people” as an opportunity to advocate for them. Even to the extent of risking his share in the Olam HaBa (“If not, then erase me from Your book!”) In so doing, Moshe Rabbeinu passes the test, saving klal Yisroel from G-d’s wrath and proving himself to be a fit and worthy Shepherd:
“11Moses pleaded before the Lord, his God, and said [va-yomer]: “Why, O Lord, should Your anger be kindled against Your people whom You have brought up from the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand? יאוַיְחַ֣ל משֶׁ֔ה אֶת־פְּנֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֑יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לָמָ֤ה יְהֹוָה֙ יֶֽחֱרֶ֤ה אַפְּךָ֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔ךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר הוֹצֵ֨אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּכֹ֥חַ גָּד֖וֹל וּבְיָ֥ד חֲזָקָֽה: 12
Why should the Egyptians say: ‘He brought them out with evil [intent] to kill them in the mountains and to annihilate them from upon the face of the earth’? Retreat from the heat of Your anger and reconsider the evil [intended] for Your people.
יבלָ֩מָּה֩ יֹֽאמְר֨וּ מִצְרַ֜יִם לֵאמֹ֗ר בְּרָעָ֤ה הֽוֹצִיאָם֙ לַֽהֲרֹ֤ג אֹתָם֙ בֶּֽהָרִ֔ים וּלְכַ֨לֹּתָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה שׁ֚וּב מֵֽחֲר֣וֹן אַפֶּ֔ךָ וְהִנָּחֵ֥ם עַל־הָֽרָעָ֖ה לְעַמֶּֽךָ:
13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your very Self, and to whom You said: ‘I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and all this land which I said that I would give to your seed, they shall keep it as their possession forever.’ “
יגזְכֹ֡ר לְאַבְרָהָם֩ לְיִצְחָ֨ק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל עֲבָדֶ֗יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֣עְתָּ לָהֶם֘ בָּךְ֒ וַתְּדַבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אַרְבֶּה֙ אֶת־זַרְעֲכֶ֔ם כְּכֽוֹכְבֵ֖י הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְכָל־הָאָ֨רֶץ הַזֹּ֜את אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָמַ֗רְתִּי אֶתֵּן֙ לְזַרְעֲכֶ֔ם וְנָֽחֲל֖וּ לְעֹלָֽם:
14The Lord [then] reconsidered the evil He had said He would do to His people. ידוַיִּנָּ֖חֶם יְהֹוָ֑ה עַל־הָ֣רָעָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבֶּ֖ר לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת לְעַמּֽוֹ:
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