Renewing the Relationship

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Renewing the Relationship

Summarized by Zev Frimer



"And Moshe gathered the whole congregation of Bnei Yisrael and he said to them: These are the things that God has commanded to do..." (Shemot 35:1)

The reason for this gathering is not mentioned explicitly in the text. The commentaries, however, address this question. Ibn Ezra explains:

"The reason for gathering them is that everyone would hear directly from him about the Mishkan, and would volunteer donations."

The Rashbam offers a more detailed and specific explanation, along the same lines (and the Ramban comments likewise):

"'And Moshe gathered' - in order to collect from each one a half-shekel per head, and also to warn them concerning the work of the Mishkan."

Common to these interpretations is the idea that the gathering focused on a future purpose and a functional objective.

We may perhaps offer a different approach: this gathering focused on the past as well, rather than solely on a future purpose.

As a result of the sin of the golden calf, there was a sharp turn in the relationship between Moshe and Bnei Yisrael. From the point of view of the nation, what they now saw before them was a leader whose character had changed. He now acted differently and was estranged from them.

Prior to the sin, they knew Moshe as a leader who was involved, with every fiber of his being, in the affairs of the nation. He had sat "to judge the nation... from the morning until the evening," with the aim of teaching them "God's statutes and His Torah" (Shemot 18) directly, with no mediation or middlemen, despite the enormous personal effort that this entailed. Following the sin of the golden calf, in contrast, Moshe distanced himself from the nation, taking the Ohel Mo'ed and pitching it "outside the camp, at a distance from the camp" (ibid. 35:7). Now "anyone who sought God" could no longer simply approach their leader, who dwelt among them. Rather, he would have to go out to the Ohel Mo'ed "that was outside the camp" and initiate by himself the process of transmission of "God's statutes and His Torah."

Likewise, following the sin, Bnei Yisrael were no longer recipients of great and joyous tidings from their leader, such as they had previously heard:

"You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Me... You will be a treasure to Me from among all the nations... And you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Shemot 19:4-6)

Instead, their leader now transmitted somber messages:

"You are a stiff-necked nation; in one moment I shall come up among you and consume you... Take off your ornaments from upon you, that I may know what I shall do to you." (ibid. 33:5-6)

Indeed, this is how the situation appears to Bnei Yisrael. They do not know about Moshe, the great leader who "entreated … before the Lord his God," who storms the heavens on behalf of the nation and demands their forgiveness, as described by Chazal:

"Moshe grasped the Holy One, as it were, like a man who grabs his friend's garment, and he said: 'Master of the Universe, I will not let You go until you forgive them'... until He agreed." (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 32, #392)

They do not know about Moshe, who refuses the offer of, "Now leave Me, and My anger will burn against them and I will consume them, and I will make you into a great nation" (32:10), and would sooner give up his own life on behalf of the nation:

"And now, if You will forgive their sin - and if not, please erase me from Your book that You have written." (32:32)

The above description, which is familiar to us, was hidden from Bnei Yisrael at the time. They now see only the leader who brings them water and tests them like women suspected of adultery (Avoda Zara 44a). They see the leader who commands, "Let each man place his sword on his thigh; pass over backwards and forwards from entrance to entrance in the camp and let each man kill his brother, let each kill those close to him" (Shemot 32:27). Their leader appears to have severed himself from them and to have placed himself very far from the camp.

It is no wonder that Chazal (Tanchuma, Ki Tisa, 27) interpret the verse, "And they looked after Moshe until he came to the tent" (ibid. 33:8) to imply the nation's resentment and mistrust.

As a result, Moshe - the leader who was truly great and blameless - commences (at the end of parashat Ki Tisa, 34:31) a process of rehabilitation of the relationship, in an effort to bring it back to its former state:

"And Moshe called to them, and Aharon and all the princes of the congregation returned to him, and Moshe spoke to them, and thereafter all of Bnei Yisrael approached..."

The beginning of parashat Vayakhel ("And Moshe gathered the whole congregation of Bnei Yisrael and he said to them...") is simply a continuation of the same process of reconciliation between the greatest of leaders and his followers.

Hence it is clear that beyond the future, functional objective of building the Mishkan, this gathering also has a central aspect of looking backwards. It is the rehabilitation of the past and the start of a new era. In the Ramban's formulation, this shows that "they returned to their former [status] and their newlywed love" in their relationship with God, and it is not difficult to imagine that the same applied to their relationship with God's faithful shepherd, Moshe.

(This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat parashat Vayakhel 5760 [2000].)


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