One of the deepest Jewish theological truths is, that sin is not a trap, but rather it is meant to be a test. The possibility of sin was created so that we would overcome its temptations and yearn for and find G-d. “In order that they know from the shining of the sun and from the west that there is no one besides Me; I am Hashem and there is no other. Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates evil…”Isaiah 45:6-7).
The people of Israel experience the revelation of the divine and yet soon after ,fall into the sin of the golden calf. One could have wrongly assumed that that their sin was a sin of idolatry and of creating “other gods”. Yet clearly the children of Israel were not trying to replace G-d but rather they felt a compulsion to replace Moshe their leader and teacher.
On the 16th of Tammuz the people come to the mistaken conclusion that Moshe is overdue and that perhaps he has died. “When the people saw that Moses had not come down the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said to him, ‘come make for us gods (plural) to go before us [to lead us]; for that man [Moshe] who brought us here from Egypt – we do not know what has become of him’.” (ibid 32:1)
Aharon, Moshe’s brother, stalls for time and believes that all will be well, as Rashi states: “In his heart he intended it should be for Heaven ; he was certain that Moshe would arrive and they would serve the Omnipresent.” Yet, eventually he extracts the golden calf out of the fire.
“And they said, these are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the Land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4)
Again we see the plural word ELEH as in ” these are your gods”. The reason for the plurality was that G-d still remained G-d ,but in many ways He remained the awesome and fearful G-d .They felt that they needed to have some other entity to stand between them.”“Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Hashem our G-d any more, then we shall die….. You go near, and hear all that Hashem our G-d may say; and you shall speak unto us all that Hashem our G-d may speak unto you; and we will hear it and do it.’ ” (Deuteronomy 5:21-23). With Moshe gone they needed some entity to take his place.
Yet the children of Israel were not the only ones being tested.
We hear G-d speaking to Moshe and saying;“ ‘Go, descend, for your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly.’ And Hashem said to Moshe: ‘I have seen this people and behold! they are a stiff necked people. Now 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.( Exodus 32 :9-10)
Three things are noteworthy. The first is that when G-d says “Go, descend, for your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly” ,He calls them “your people” . Secondly He further defines them as “your people that you have brought up from the land of Egypt “.Finally if Moshe moves out of the way and lets Hashem annihilate the people , G-d says “I will make you ( Moshe) into a great nation.”
The test for Moshe is about what type of leader he would become. Could it be that Moshe was somehow slightly responsible for the fact that the people saw themselves as Moshe’s people and that in their minds it was Moshe ” who brought us here from Egypt ” (ibid.32:1)
So Hashem test Moshe and asks him to move out of the way so that the punishment of G-d could occur. This is such an unusual statement implying as if Moshe could possibly be “in the way” in the first place. Hashem further tempts Moshe by promising him greatness and fame. Rather than stepping away, Moshe steps into his role as the optimal leader and eventually even declares.” And now, if You forgive their sin But if not, erase me now from Your book, which You have written.” ( ibid 32:32).
Moshe has not only passed the test but has left us a legacy and insight that all mankind must learn to adopt and assimilate. What usually keeps us from doing what we know is right, holy and critical is that we are usually so filled with ourselves , our desires and our own ego. We have no room to grow and make corrective choices in our lives because we are so filled with “what we are” or “what we always have been”. Hashem asks Moshe and all of us either to stand aside ” ve-ata ha-nicha lee Now leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them ” or to do exactly the opposite. It is in that moment of indecision that Hashem expects us to stand in and fill with new determination.
This helps explain the unusual phraseology in another verse. When Moshe goes down to see what his people have done Joshua says to him “There is a voice of battle in the camp!”( ibid 17). Yet Moshe answers ” “[It is] neither a voice shouting victory, nor a voice shouting defeat; a voice of blasphemy I hear.”( ibid 18) .
The words in Hebrew are more confusing. It reads in the following manner
“It is neither a KOL ANOT GEVURA (voice shouting victory) nor a KOL ANOT CHALUSHA (voice shouting defeat), a KOL ANOT ANOCHI( translated as voice of blasphemy I hear) . Those last words are more literally translated as “a voice of Anochi ,I hear” . That is to say, “it is the voice of arrogant selfishness (Anochiut) that I hear”. It is that arrogance that led to their sin. It is that being filled with themselves that separated them from their G-dly soul. It is only when we make room for G-d and His destiny and purpose can we ever hope to pass our own individual and corporate tests.