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Taking the Blame

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Ki Sisa - Purim
Taking the Blame

This week's Torah portion describes the infamous Golden Calf. When Moshe prays to God to forgive the Jewish people for this incident, he pleads, "Blot me out of Your Book" (Parshas Ki Sisa 32:32). The implication of this statement is that Moshe's erasure from the Torah would somehow atone for the Jewish people's sin. We know that Moshe's was the humblest man who ever lived, (Parshas Beha'Aloscha 12:3) which makes this statement seem quite surprising. The Golden Calf was a major offense. How could Moshe be so presumptuous to think that removing his name from the Torah could atone for the entire fiasco?

According to the Baal Shem Tov (9), whenever Moshe saw the Jewish people behaving inappropriately, he blamed himself. He assumed that his own failings were the most probable cause of the people's misbehavior. This attitude can be understood on two levels. On a Kabbalistic level, if the leader of a generation makes even a slight mistake, it can cause a ripple effect. A leader's small error in thought, speech, or action may result in the people's committing major crimes.

The Mekor Mayim Chaim (6) writes that this effect can be compared to a person holding a long piece of string, with the top end between his fingers and the bottom lying on the ground. If the person moves the top of the string even slightly, the bottom will move as well. The top of the string - the "head" - symbolizes the head of the generation. Just as the head of the string causes the bottom to move, so too does the head of the generation impact those lower down.

On a practical level, we can understand Moshe's behavior as covering for the Jewish people. He took responsibility for their mistake because of his intense commitment to leading them. It is as if Moshe said, "Had I been a better leader, they would have been better people." He saw their mistake as a reflection on his failure to guide them properly.

In fact, this was not the case, as we see in God's subsequent statement, "The one who really sinned to me I will blot out of My Book" (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:33). Moshe was completely guiltless in this situation. Yet we see that Moshe was nevertheless prepared to cover for the people by taking the blame himself.

Now we can understand Moshe's plea to be taken out of the Torah. Moshe was not being presumptuous by claiming that his erasure from the Torah would atone for the people's sin; rather, he was begging, "Punish me instead of them!" A willingness to cover for other people - deflecting the accusations against them and accepting the blame ourselves - is one of the greatest ways to demonstrate love.

This is the type of love that a husband and wife should have for each other. The relationship between husbands and wives is also alluded to in this week's Parsha. The verse says, "And He (God) gave to Moshe (the Two Tablets of the testimony) "Kichaloso" (when He had made an end) of speaking with him" (Parshas Ki Sisa 31:18). Rashi, based on the Tanchumah (18), points out that the word we pronounce as "Kichaloso" is actually spelled without the letter vov, encouraging us to read the word as "Kichalaso," which means, "as His bride."

This teaches us that the Torah was given to Moshe as a bride is given over to her groom. At a wedding ceremony, during the bedekening, the groom traditionally covers the face of the bride with her veil (Rema, Even Haezer, 31:2. See Parshas Chayei Sara, 24:65, about Rivka covering her face with a veil right before marrying Yitzchak). With this gesture, the groom says to his bride, "Don't worry, for the rest our lives, I will cover for you." Instead of criticizing her, he promises that he will blame himself.

Additionally, under the Chuppah, the bride walks around her groom 7 times (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, 147:5). By surrounding him in this way, the bride is saying to her groom, "I love you so much that for the rest of our lives I will cover for you." Instead of pointing the accusing finger at him, she promises to carry the burden of responsibility.

This explains one reason why Mount Sinai was covered with darkness and a thick cloud when Hashem gave the Torah to the Jewish people (Parshas Vaeschanan 4:11). The message was that if we were to transgress the Torah, Hashem would cover for us. Since Hashem is our Parent, it teaches us that, as parents, we should follow suit. It wouldn't hurt to tell our children, once in a while, "I'm so sorry, if I was a better parent, you would not have done such and such."

May we learn to love each other to the degree where we can point the accusatory finger at ourselves instead of at others. In this way, may we be able to rectify our old mistake of baseless hatred, and replace it with baseless love, that we may merit our full and final redemption.

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