It wasn’t easy getting God to calm down, but Moshe succeeded, at least for the moment. God has even tried to disown the Israelites, who responded to all God had done for them by building the Golden Calf. God said to Moshe, “Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely” (Exodus 32:7). God’s anger needs an outlet: “Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them” (v.10). But Moshe won’t let the Divine fury rage to its full capacity, nor will he allow God to abandon the Israelites: “Let not Your anger, O LORD, blaze forth against Your people…(v.11).
Yet after expending all that energy in assuaging God’s anger, Moshe shows plenty of his own anger within moments. “As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain” (32:19).
What happened to turn Moshe from the voice of reason to the one who smashes the very tablets that contained God’s revelation?
Moshe’s behavior–his anger, and his smashing of the tablets–is the subject of much commentary. Let’s consider two possibilities, about which we’ll speak further on Shabbat morning. Is Moshe’s anger spontaneous? If so, what triggered it at that precise moment? Or, was his anger calculated? If so, was it justified?
Rabbi David Wise