Unanswerable Question - In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z'L)
As Rashi (1040 -1105; Exodus 32:1) explains, Moses told the Children of Israel that he would ascend Mt. Sinai for forty days. However, the Israelites miscalculated because they didn’t understand Moses meant forty complete days, meaning the day he ascended wasn’t included in the count. When Moses didn’t descend at the expected time, the people became apprehensive. Seizing the moment, Satan created images of darkness and gloom. Fearing Moses was, the Israelites created a new intermediary, the Golden Calf. (See also Da'as Zekeinim)
The following day, on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, Moses descended and, upon witnessing Israel’s sin, broke the two tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.
For the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d wanted to destroy the Jewish people and begin a new nation fathered by Moses. (Exodus 32:10) However, Moses interceded on Israel’s behalf.
"Why are you angry against your people that you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying: ‘For evil intent did He (G-d) bring them out, to slay them (Israel) in the mountains and to remove them from the face of the earth?’” (Exodus 32:11-12)
Many commentaries note an obvious question – “Why are You angry . . .?” Why wouldn’t G-d be angry? A scant forty days after the revelation at Mt. Sinai, the Jews created a golden calf. What, then, is the meaning of Moses’ question?
The Ohr HaChaim (Rabbi Chaim ben Moshe ibn Attar 1696 – 1743, Morocco and Jerusalem; Exodus 32:11))answers that the first question cannot be properly understood without reading the second question – “Why should the Egyptians speak . . .?” Would G-d, so soon after the Exodus, give the Egyptians reason to claim “For evil intent did He bring them out”? Would G-d eradicate the Jewish people after instructing Moses to tell Pharaoh “My first born son, Israel, send My son free so he can serve Me”? (Exodus 4: 22-23)
Moses argued that even if the Jewish people were deserving of death, for G-d’s own sake, to preserve His name in this world, G-d must never allow the Jewish nation to be destroyed. Therefore, Moses begins with a rhetorical question – “Why are You angry . . .?” Meaning, for Your sake, Israel cannot be destroyed. For Your sake, You must offer salvation. For Your sake, do not treat the Jewish people with anger.
The Torah continues – “And G-d reconsidered the evil which He said He would do to His people." (Exodus 32:14)
Moses offers an extraordinary prayer. Even when Israel has no merit and is completely undeserving of G-d’s grace, we can still turn to G-d and say, “Please G-d, if not for our sake, then, please, for Your sake.”
May all who need salvation receive it speedily.