Parashat Ki Tissa
The two most dramatic elements within Ki Tissa are clearly the sin of the Golden Calf and Moshe’s following plea before HaShem for mercy.
Regarding the sin of the golden calf, the people of Israel grew agitated with Moshe and took matters into their own hands:
“They gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Get busy and make us gods to go ahead of us; because this Moshe, the man that brought us up from the land of Egypt – we don’t know what has become of him.’” (Exodus 32: 1)
Aaron cooperated. Whether his actions were the result of fear or an attempt at appeasement, many authorities agree that Aaron’s accompanying actions were his biggest failure. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz states that Aaron’s participation in creating the golden calf was “the worst failure of his career.” This assessment is supported by Nehama Leibowitz who sees within the narrative not only the failure of Aaron and the sin of the Israelites, but a deliberate warning that human beings are capable of acting nobly at one moment and ugly at the next.
Upon seeing the people singing and dancing before the golden calf, Moshe became enraged:
“He threw the tablets he had been holding and shattered them at the base of the mountain. Seizing the calf they had made, he melted it in the fire and ground it into powder, which he scattered on the water. Then he made the people of Israel drink it.” (Exodus 32:19-20)
Moshe confronted his brother Aaron, pleading “What did these people do to you to make you lead them into such terrible sin?” Aaron replied with one of the sorriest excuses in the Torah:
“My lord should not be so angry. You know what these people are like, that they are determined to do evil … I answered them, ‘Anyone with gold, strip it off!’ So they gave it to me. I threw it in the fire, and out jumped this calf!” (Exodus 32:22-24)
Not only does Aaron deflect responsibility by pointing the finger at the people, but he makes an excuse, as though his participation was only passive – “I threw it into the fire, and out jumped this calf!”
Afterwards Moshe went back up the mountain to plead with HaShem not to destroy the Jewish people.G-d agrees and Moshe requests to see G-d’s glory. Placing Moshe in the cleft of a rock, HaShem allowed His presence to pass by Moshe. Moshe then cut two new stone tablets, and HaShem descended upon the mountain in a thick cloud and proclaimed what has come to be known as the Thirteen Attributes of G-d.
Within these two dramatic events we see two very different responses to responsibility under pressure. Aaron gave into the desires of the people, and when confronted made an excuse. Moshe, when confronted, took on the responsibility for the actions of the Jewish people. Instead of making an excuse and passing the blame on the people, he stood before the presence G-d and pleaded for mercy.
G-d is not looking for perfect people. Rather, G-d is looking for people who are humble and obedient. Humility requires that we not only seek to do HaShem’s will, but when we fall short, to come humbly in repentance, and take responsibility for our actions. Let’s stop making excuses for the tasks at hand and let us walk humbly together, like Moshe, and prepare the way for the return of Mashiach!