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Posted on February 29, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

If I have now found favor in Your eyes, my Lord, let my Lord go among us. For it is a stiff-necked people, and you shall forgive our iniquity and error.[1]

The gemara describes a different dialogue concerning the sin of the egel:

HKBH said, “Can I possibly forget the olos of rams, and the animal first born that you offered Me in the midbar?” Knesses Yisrael said before Him, “Well, if there is no forgetting for You, perhaps You will never for forget to hold the incident of the egel against me?” Hashem responded, “No. Even that will be forgotten.” Knesses Yisrael says, “So if there really is forgetting before the Throne of Honor, perhaps You will forget the incident of [accepting the Torah] at Sinai?’ Hashem responded, “I will not forget.”[2]

What can this be all about? Is G-d’s “forgetfulness” a matter of reasonable discussion? Can a person who understands the most basic truths about Hashem ever entertain such a possibility?

Surely not. “Forgetting” certainly means letting go of a trespass, excusing an obligation. Knesses Yisrael asks whether Hashem will ever cease holding this aveirah over their heads as a constant threat of retribution. Hashem answers affirmatively. But if so, what is the connection to her next question? Why would forgiving the maaseh Egel to some degree indicate that He might also cease crediting Yisrael for kabbolas haTorah? What connection is there between the two events?

There is indeed a very real connection.

If a person has a volatile, changeable personality, and is easily moved to action by opinions and events around him, his misbehavior is somewhat excusable. His mercurial tendencies are exculpatory. We understand that his actions do not reflect the genuine inner person, because they don’t come from a place of calm, collected intention. This applies in the opposite direction as well. His good deeds also can come from momentary excitement, rather than from a deliberate, reasoned intention to do good. This is especially true if others are pushing him in a given direction, and he is easily influenced by the opinions of others.

On the other hand, when a stubborn person performs good deeds, they can fully be credited to his true self. Because he ponders and deliberates before acting, his maasim tovim come from full understanding and commitment. Sadly, the same is true of his aveiros. He cannot point a finger at those who seduced him to misbehave; his sins are reasoned and deliberate.

The Bnei Yisrael could find an argument to lessen the gravity of the egel offense. They had been egged on by the eirev rav, etc. They played that card, and Hashem said that He would indeed “forget” their aveirah, meaning that He would not hold them fully responsible.

That worried the Bnei Yisrael. If the basis for easing their guilt was to consider them easy to persuade, and therefor not acting entirely deliberately, perhaps Hashem would “forget,” i.e. not fully credit them, for their acceptance of the Torah! Hashem reassured them. Despite His going easy on them regarding the egel, He would never forget the beauty and majesty of their commitment at Har Sinai.

So which are we? The easy, agreeable type, or the stubborn, skeptical type? In truth, it is the latter – and that is a good thing. Hashem made us that way so that we would not be easily drawn to the wiles of the nations among whom we live. Our survival through many centuries of galus testifies to that.

This was incorporated by Moshe in his plea for forgiveness for the chet ha-egel. Am Yisrael deserves boundless credit for accepting the Torah, because they are a stiff-necked people. Their kabbalah at Sinai was focused and sincere. And, Moshe continues, even though that makes it impossible to mitigate the chet ha-egel, nonetheless “forgive our iniquity and error.”

  1. Shemos 34:9
  2. Berachos 32b