Parashat Be- Shalah 5766/ February 11, 2006
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
“They had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses”
Prof. Nathan Aviezer
Department of Physics
The most dramatic event in this week’s reading is
undoubtedly the splitting of the
it was only a few weeks after the splitting of the
From Revelation to Revelry
it be that the people who experienced G-d’s
deliverance in the splitting of the
Before answering this question, there is another question which ought to be raised. Why was the Holy One, blessed be He, so angry about the sin of the golden calf? On account of this sin the Holy One, blessed be He, proclaimed He would annihilate the entire people of Israel: “Now, let Me be, … that I may destroy them” (Ex. 32:10). The Israelites were saved from annihilation only by virtue of Moses’ intense pleading on their behalf, saying, “Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!” (Ex. 32:32). In the end the Holy One, blessed be He, accepted Moses pleading, but punishment for the sin of the golden calf was not waived. The Holy One, blessed be He, only replaced it with a conditional punishment, hanging over their heads until the day they sin again: “But when I make an accounting, I will bring them to account for their sins” (Ex. 32:34). The next sin was not long in coming. Several months later the Israelites sinned once again, this time in the episode of the spies; one sin brings another in its wake. The sin of the golden calf was compounded by the sin of the spies, and the fate of the Israelites in that generation was sealed.
Why did the
Lord pronounce such a harsh sentence – destruction of the entire Israelite
people – for the sin of the golden calf?
To appreciate the severity of the punishment it suffices for us to
compare the sin of the golden calf to another sin of idolatry, described in
Numbers: “The people profaned themselves
by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the sacrifices for
their god. The people partook of
them and worshiped that god. Thus
The key to
the answer lies in the timing of the sin of the golden calf.
This event took place immediately after
the Israelites had experienced the splitting of the Red Sea, immediately after
they had witnessed a series of miracles in the Ten Plagues, and immediately
after the revelation at
Faith and Miracles
reveals an extremely important message in the accounts of the splitting of the
interesting story illustrates this point.
In the twenties and thirties of the previous century there was an
English professor at Harvard University by the name of George
Kitredge, a great expert of international stature in
Shakespeare and his period. For
decades Professor Kitredge was outstanding both in
his research and in his teaching, legendary in the academic world for his
fascinating lectures. One day the
Similarly, in order to attain complete faith in the Holy One, blessed be He, one needs devotion that lasts an entire lifetime. True faith is acquired through long years of pondering, studying Torah, observing commandments, and improving oneself; it is not the product of momentary elation that comes in the wake of one or another miracle, no matter how impressive. The latter sort of fervor comes in a flash but also dissipates in a flash, as Maimonides wrote, “Those who have faith because of miracles, their hearts are not true” ( Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, ch. 8, halakah 1).
of the splitting of the Red Sea, along with all the other miracles of that
period, could not save the Israelites from the most base of sins, which led to
the entire adult population perishing in the wilderness.
Indeed, even after years of faith one
can have failings, as in the sin of worshipping Baal-Peor.
Nevertheless that generation was deemed worthy by the Holy One, blessed be He,
of entering the