(Translation of the D’var Torah that I gave in our shul on 18 Adar 5776, 27 Feb 2016. It was written as a speech, not an essay, and is not actually about the Haftarah.)
This Dvar Torah is in memory my father, Peter Rozenberg, Pinchas ben Natan Nota, z”l, whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday.
There is a Mitzvah in the Torah – “והלכת בדרכיו” – “you should act in His ways”. Chazal explain, “Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful; just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.” The list of these qualities is found in our Parsha, after the Sin of the Golden Calf, when Moshe is in the cleft of the rock, and G-d passes in front of Him and calls out:
” ה’ ה’ אל רחום וחנון, ארך אפיים, רב חסד ואמת, נוצר חסד לאלפים, וכו’…”
Hashem, Hashem, G-d Who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, with great kindness and truth, remembering kindnesses for thousands of generations, …” (Shemot 34:6-7)
A person who acts in these ways of Hashem, what is he like?
“Just as He is merciful, you should be merciful” – this is understanding that the person before you is not perfect. He doesn’t know everything, he doesn’t control everything, he does not succeed at everything. He wants to do well, to do the right thing, but it doesn’t always work out for him. Because he’s not perfect, and that’s fine. This is mercy.
What is “gracious”(חנון)? Chazal say that this is when one gives free (“חינם”). My father used to say that when someone asks you for help, of course you have to help. But real giving is to help without being asked – to understand what is missing and to find ways to give it. This is “gracious.”
“Slow to anger” is when you understand that because nobody is perfect, and nobody succeeds 100%, then it is possible that if a person fails today, he might succeed tomorrow. Or sometime in the future. (And this is particularly important when dealing with children, and even more so, with teenagers. In the end, they’ll be perfect, don’t worry) – this is “slow to anger”.
“Great kindness” – there are people who are very happy to give to others, but only within their own community, to people who are like them. When it comes to others, who are different … not so much. “Great kindness” is giving to all, regardless of who they are.
“Remembering kindness for thousands of generations” – when my father came to live in Israel, it turned out that we have family all over the country. He would send me regards from, the grandchildren of the cousins of my grandmother… someone whom he had known as a child, and was kind to him then, and now he is in contact with their great-grandchildren.
And so on.
But why is this list of G-d’s qualities, which is the basis of the commandment, “act in His ways”, why is it not in mentioned at Matan Torah at Sinai? Why does G-d only tell Moshe about these qualities after the Sin of the Golden Calf, as if it was “Plan B”? What was “Plan A”?
In the Ten Commandments, it says, ”
“אנכי ה’ אלוקיך…פוקד עון אבות על בנים… לשונאי.. ועושה חסד לאלפים לאוהבי”
“I am Hashem, your G-d.. keeps in mind the sins of the father … for those who hate Me; do kindness for thousands of generations for those who love Me” (Shemot 20:5)
At Matan Torah, at Sinai, we returned to the state of before the Sin of Adam – there was no death, there was no illness, all was clear. And so G-d spoke in black and white – “those who love Me, those who hate Me.” 100%. This was a state like in the Garden of Eden, of perfection. But it did not last. Apparently, it could not last.
When Moshe did not come back on time, the Jewish People said, “this man, Moshe, we do not know what became of him.” They didn’t know! Aharon, also – it’s clear that he really just did not know what to do; he tried to delay them, he told them, “tomorrow”, because he didn’t know.
We are not perfect. We do not know everything. We only see what is in front of us, and no more. We cannot make decisions based on perfect knowledge about what will be tomorrow. We only know what we have today – “one day at a time.”
So, we make mistakes, we are not perfect. And the truth is, that this is sad. It says that when the Jewish People understood this, that they would not be able to survive with G-d treating them as either “those who love Me” or “those who hate Me”, expecting success of 100%, they mourned. They took off the “jewels”, the crowns, as it were, that they received at Matan Torah, that were symbols of their existence in the state of Eden, because it is impossible to live like that. And this is very sad.
So then, G-d showed them that He can be with them without the 100%. That He understands that they do not know everything, do not control everything, do not succeed at everything, and that sometimes, they don’t even know to ask for help.
Just as He is merciful, so you should be merciful. Just as He is gracious, so you should be gracious.