It was all HIS fault?

Scot Poz from KC offered the following comment on my last post, “Fleeing With The Stash”:

“Still can’t help but wonder whether Hashem KNEW we … would shape the Golden Calf – with the wealth / riches / etc – before it happened.  If so, then why would HE be so mad at them for doing so?”

The simple answer is that Hashem, unbound by time, surely knew what we would do. Rambam, in Hilchot Teshuva, raises the famous question of how we could have free will if Hashem knows everything we will do in the future; now, the simple answer to this question – somewhat beyond the scope of our discussion – is that He does know what we’ll do, and yet His knowledge does not bind us.

His knowledge of our future actions can be compared to someone who has already seen a film knowing what a particular character in that film will do.   Hashem, who transcends time, has already “seen the film before”.  In no way does my knowing what will happen next in the film cause those characters in the movie to behave in a certain way.

There is a strong trace of Scot’s concern, however, in our classical sources.

At the opening of the Book of Devarim we read:

1. These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav. א. אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין פָּארָן וּבֵין תֹּפֶל וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת וְדִי זָהָב

Rashi comments:

and Di-Zahav: (lit., enough gold). He rebuked them for the calf they had made as a result of their abundance of gold, as it is said: “and I gave her much silver and gold, but they made it for Baal” (Hosea 2:10).

In keeping with his approach to the locations mentioned at the outset of Devarim, Rashi understands that Moshe is rebuking the Jews for transgressions that they committed throughout the desert wanderings – but only “b’remez” – indirectly –  to preserve the nation’s integrity…

But see the following quote from the midrash Yalkut Shimoni:

What is ‘Di-Zahav’? They said in the school of R. Yannai: Thus spoke Moshe before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign of the Universe, the silver and gold [zahav] which You showered on Israel until they said, ‘Enough’ [dai], that it was which led to their making the Eigel/Golden Calf.

In other words, as well as rebuking the people for making the calf, Moshe “rebukes” Hashem for giving them the tools to commit such a grave sin!

The most surprising aspect of this midrash is its conclusion:

ומנין שחזר הקב”ה והודה לו למשה, שנאמר וכסף הרביתי לה וזהב עשו לבעל

And from where do we know that the Holy One, Blessed be He, admitted to Moshe that He was responsible? (from the verse): “and I gave her much silver and gold, but they made it for Baal” (Hosea 2:10).

This is hard to understand! Wasn’t this the very verse quoted by Rashi at the opening of Devarim? There it came in the context of Hashem rebuking Israel; in the midrash, it’s cited as a proof that Hashem accepts ultimate responsibility for having caused them to stumble!

How can the same verse be both a rebuke of Am Yisrael for having sinned and a rebuke of Hashem, who “caused” us to sin?

I saw in a book called Yalkut Or Hachayim that we learn from this episode that one who does not “work on himself” – develop himself morally and spiritually – can be corrupted even by Hashem’s blessings.  As I noted in the original post, the “chen” (grace) that we found in the eyes of the Egyptians showed that they sensed in us a people ready to receive the Torah. The gold and silver were merely an expression of the appreciation they had of our new status. The blessings of physical riches were an indicator of our capacity to receive the “spiritual riches” of the Torah.

It was then up to this nation to actualize this potential!  Without constantly striving to improve, there is no guarantee that we will use Hashem’s brachot to our advantage. This is the meaning of יברכך ה’ וישמרך – May Hashem give you a bracha and guard you. We pray that Hashem guard us from misusing the bracha He bestows upon us.

In light of the above, I would like to suggest that Hashem’s “acceptance of responsibility” for the sin of the Golden Calf ultimately is His acceptance of responsibility for creating man, who may not always rise to the challenge of actualizing his potential.


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