Shabbat Pekudei - 5760 Ending the Book of Shemot and the Construction of the Mishkan
With the conclusion of the Book of "Shemot"/Exodus, and the completion of the Mishkan, the abode of the Divine Presence on earth, according to the RAMBAN, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, the Jewish People have risen again to the level of the "Avot." The "Avot," the fathers of the Jewish People, were at the level where they themselves were the "Merkavah," the Chariot, or vehicle of G-d in the world.
"Maasei Avot, Siman L'Banim;" What the forefathers did is symbolic of and a model for, what their children and later descendants would do and achieve. Now that the Mishkan is complete, and Hashem's Divine Presence has returned to the Children of Israel, that People is ready to take up the task of being the "Chariot," or vehicle, of G-d in the world.
In his Introduction to the Book of Shemot, the RAMBAN does not mention the moment of great danger that the Jewish People brought upon themselves soon after receiving the Torah. That was when they miscalculated the date, and fearing that they had lost Moshe, worshipped the Golden Calf.
And that deviation cost them dearly because they had to, at the command of Hashem, strip themselves of the "spiritual jewelry" that they had acquired at Sinai. "Measure for measure," as they had removed their physical jewelry, in order to make the Calf, Hashem had commanded, "And now, remove your jewelry from yourselves, and I shall know what to do with you." (Shemot 33:5)
Before we leave the Book of Shemot, and immerse ourselves in the Laws of the Priests and the Sacrifices, let us take a final (for now) look at the incident of the Calf, for which Aharon, according to CHAZAL, was punished with the loss of his two eldest sons, and at the excuse that Aharon offered to Moshe when the latter came down from Mt. Sinai.
Moshe says to Aharon, "What did the People do to you that you brought a grievous sin upon it?" (Shemot 32:21) And Aharon answers that the People had demanded, "Rise and make for us an 'elohim' who will go before us!" (Shemot 32:1)
The RAMBAN asks there, "What kind of an excuse is that? Aharon is just adding to his guilt by saying that he was ready to make for the People a god to worship!?"
RAMBAN answers that Aharon was saying, "That was not my intent! I merely wanted to make a temporary substitute for you; not a deity to worship - only a mortal creature who has the ability to lead the way."
And Aharon had heard Hashem refer to Moshe as an "elohim!" At the beginning of Sefer Shemot, at the "Burning Bush," when Moshe was stubbornly refusing to lead the Jewish People, Hashem had said to Moshe that Aharon would assist him, "And it will be that he will speak for you with the People. He will be for you a spokesman, and you will be for him an "elohim." (Shemot 4:16)
RASHI cited there the Gemara Zevachim, where Rabbi Yosi states his opinion that Moshe was punished for his stubbornness here by losing the Priesthood to Aharon. Perhaps it is also true that he caused Aharon's confusion about the meaning of the word "elohim," a confusion that would come back to haunt them both at the time of the Golden Calf uprising.
And thus, perhaps Moshe was also to some extent responsible for the tragedy of the Golden Calf, the event that is compared by CHAZAL to the betrayal of a bride while still under the bridal canopy. And his responsibility goes beyond the fact that it was because of his insistence that the "Erev Rav," the mixture of Egyptians who had joined the Jewish People only to be on the side of the "winner," rather than out of sincere conviction, was allowed to remain with them; and it was their pressure that forced the issue when the People of Israel demanded a new leader.
And thus Hashem was doubly justified in saying to Moshe "Go down, because your nation has become corrupt, the one that you brought out of Egypt." (Shemot 32:7)
Whether or not the theory presented above is correct, this is another lesson that we learn from the Book of Shemot, as well as the Book of Bereshit. That Hashem holds the greatest ones amongst us, a Moshe and an Aharon, an Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, to a higher level of justice that is exceedingly fine, as a "chut ha-sa'arah," thin as a hair, because they can stand up to the scrutiny.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU