Parshat Mishpatim: What The Sin of The Golden Calf Forces Us to Appreciate

This week’s parshah (Torah portion) represents the paradigm shift of the Torah, where, right after the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, the narrative shifts from that of a [mostly] sequential storyline, into the gritty details of what it means to be a Jew – i.e., knowing and following the commandments and mitzvot.

Towards the end of the parshah, the Torah writes that G-d told Moshe [Shemot, 23’ 20’]:

“I am sending an angel\messenger before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready.”

Not much detail is given around the cause of this rather vague message from Hashem, and certainly there is great debate amongst the commentaries as to who exactly this “messenger” was [Rashi understands the messenger here to in fact be the Angel Metatron – whose origins and purpose count amongst the secrets of the Torah, and requires extensive and in depth Torah analysis].

It is worth noting here, that in Rabbeinu Bachye’s [Torah commentary from around the C.E.] commentary on this possuk (verse), one can glimpse the prophetic power our Torah sages possess, as he writes:

“…A Midrashic approach to our verse (Shemot Rabbah 32,2). From the words: ‘Here I am about to send an angel ahead of you,’ we learn that G-d meant that had the Israelites been worthy He Himself would have continued to be at their head as He had been at the Exodus when the Torah testified ‘and the Lord Himself was walking ahead of them by day,’ etc., (13,21). Now that they had proven unworthy G-d handed them over to an agent. This is the meaning of: ‘Here I am sending an angel ahead of you.’”

Rabbeinu Bachye is understanding that the possuk quoted above is alluding to the fact that the Jews will eventually sin with the Golden Calf, and therefore, rather than merit the direct guidance of G-d into the land of Israel, G-d will instead send a “messenger\angel” to lead the Jews into our promised land.

Rabbeinu Bachye explicitly writes [ad. loc.] that had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf, we would have reached humanity’s perfection [as Adam was before he sinned and ate from the tree of knowledge]; it was only because of our violating the covenant of G-d 39 days after the Torah was given that we fell from that level. Henceforth, we would have to go through the turmoil of exile, displacement, inquisitions, a Holocaust, Crusades, pogroms and decades of barbaric terrorism in order to earn the right to call the Holy Land our own.

Rabbeinu Bachye, in describing the Holy Land, quotes from the Midrash [written approximately 2000 years ago] words that were clearly written with the Divine Spirit:

“…the fact that all the kings on earth expressed a desire for this land [the land of Israel]…We find that [at the time the Jews were going to conquer the land of Israel] the city of Jericho had its own king and that the town of Ai less than three miles removed also had its own king. The kingdoms in the land of Canaan each covered very small amounts of territory. In fact if a king ruled over a vast tract of land outside of the land of Israel but did not have a small kingdom inside the boundaries of the land of Israel he was not even considered as entitled to describe himself as ‘king.’”

[*Rabbi Munk, in his translation of Rabbeinu Bachye, offers that proof of the truth of this is the fact that Joshua made war against and defeated no fewer than 31 kings all in the narrow land called “the Land of Israel,” not even including the coastal areas inhabited by the Philistines.]

Emblematic of the above mentioned idea is the United Nations of today’s world. One can wonder for eternity how the UN can spend months and years criticizing our ancestral homeland, and yet hardly utter a word over the assortment of heinous acts committed around the world. Clearly, the words of Rabbeinu Bachye quoted above are the answer to this question – as the measure of any foreign leader’s mettle is his\her ability to claim influence and control over the lives of those in Israel.

Many are familiar with the work of my illustrious uncle, Dr. Joseph Frager – I am not sure there are many that can say they have done as much for the land of Israel as he has. What most don’t know is the fact that he has put efforts together to assist the Uyghurs in China, where according to the U.S. Labor Department:

“…at least 100,000 to hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities are being subjected to forced labor in China following detention in re-education camps…”

Hypocritically, the UN has been quite silent about this matter, choosing instead to lambast Israel repeatedly, which only seeks to live in peace. It is reasonable to assume that Dr. Frager has done more to raise awareness of the suffering of the Uyghurs than the entire body of the UN.

To conclude, it is inspiring to highlight the words of the Daat Zekeinim on the possuk, “I am sending a angel\messenger before you to guard you on the way…”, who offers that on its deepest level, the possuk is alluding to the coming Eliyahu the Prophet, who is also called a messenger, as the verse states [Malachi 3’ 23’], “Behold I am sending before you the messenger…Eliyah[u] before the coming of the great day of redemption etc.”

May we see the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days!