Yesterday, we noted the Gemara’s comments in Masekhet Berakhot (32b) interpreting the verses from Yeshayahu’s prophecy read as the haftara for Parashat Eikev: “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and God has forgotten me!’ Does a woman forget her young child, to love the fruit of her womb? Even if these are forgotten, I will not forget you” (49:14-15). The Gemara explains this to mean that God assured Benei Yisrael after the destruction that He would forever remember their devotion in the wilderness. The people then feared that this meant He would also forever remember the grave sin of the golden calf which they committed in the wilderness. God then said, “This I will forget” – promising to forget this sin – and they responded by expressing fear that He might then also forget the Revelation at Sinai, when they enthusiastically proclaimed their unwavering and unconditional commitment to obey God’s laws. He then assured them that although He would forget the golden calf, He would never forget their declaration of loyalty at the time of Matan Torah.
Chatam Sofer (Torat Moshe, Parashat Ha’azinu) offers a creative explanation for why the Gemara here connects the events of Matan Torah and the golden calf. When God informed the people that He would forget the sin of the golden calf, they figured that this was because this sin resulted from a rash, irrational decision reached frantically in a moment of panic, when Moshe did not return from atop Mount Sinai at the expected time. The people assumed that the sin of the golden calf was forgivable because it did not reflect a deep-seated rejection of God, and was rather the product of a momentary lapse. However, they then feared, if this is the case, then God might just as well forget the great moment of Matan Torah. After all, when Moshe informed them of God’s desire to forge a covenant with them, they quickly and instinctively pronounced, “Na’aseh ve-nishma” – “We will do and we will hear” (Shemot 24:7), without giving it a second thought, not even for a brief moment. And thus if they were excused for the mistake of the golden calf because this mistake was made rashly and impulsively, then they also cannot be credited for pledging their commitment at the time of Matan Torah, which was also done rashly and impulsively.
God therefore assured them that He would always remember their devotion expressed at Matan Torah, despite forgetting their betrayal at the sin of the golden calf. He knows that the rash decision to make the golden calf stemmed from a temporary lack of clear, rational thinking, whereas the rash decision to pledge commitment to the Torah stemmed from a genuine love for God and sincere desire to fulfill His will and build a meaningful relationship with Him. And thus He “forgot” the golden calf but will never forget Matan Torah.
Quick, unthinking decisions are made either due to impatience, or due to a deeply-ingrained conviction that obviates the need for careful thought and consideration. Sometimes, we act on impulse because we lack the patience to carefully and thoroughly explore our options. But on other occasions, we act on impulse because there really is nothing to think about, because the matter at stake is a value that has become fully internalized and absorbed into the very fiber of our beings. In Benei Yisrael’s case, their love for God naturally and instinctively drove them to pledge fealty to His laws even before hearing what was entailed; any hesitation or second guessing would have reflected a deficiency in their love and devotion to God. Their worship of a golden calf, by contrast, reflected not a deep-seated passion for idolatry, but rather impatience in deciding upon a course of action in response to Moshe’s delayed arrival. Our challenge is to inculcate within ourselves the Torah’s values and ideals to the point where our commitment is second nature, when we are drawn to observe the Torah without even a second thought, while avoiding rash, impulsive decisions about matters that do not relate to our deep-seated convictions.