- יב לָמָּה יֹאמְרוּ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, בְּרָעָה הוֹצִיאָם לַהֲרֹג אֹתָם בֶּהָרִים, וּלְכַלֹּתָם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; שׁוּב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפֶּךָ, וְהִנָּחֵם עַל-הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּךָ.
12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people.
~Exodus 32: 12
Note that Moses does not say that the people repented and therefore deserve to be forgiven. This is because they are still in the midst of their sin; this conversation Moses has with God is far removed from them; they do not even know what he says. But he defends them, he pleads for them, he prays for them- and why? Because of "what the Egyptians will think." Because of the merit of their fathers.
From here we learn to defend people, even sinners, with whatever reasons we can, no matter how foolish or silly they seem. Because people are precious and we try to preserve them at all costs. Of course, Moses then returns down the mount and puts an end to the sin, holds a court and trial and metes out justice. But at that moment, he wasn't sure of any of those things or of whether the people would repent at all. He was merely arguing, arguing, it would seem, for the sake of people.
The same kind of argument is advanced in one of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's speeches:
- The kinah elegy begins: "Behold, at the time when [Israel] fair as Tirzah, was in fullness of abundance, the angels cried without [and] when [Jeremiah], the son of Hilkiah, left the Temple, he met a woman whose beautiful face became repulsive" [Kinot, trans Abraham Rosenfeld London, 1965), p 136]. The theme of this kinah is that Jewish women are all beautiful. It is only the difficulties of poverty that cause them to appear homely. Our sages already expressed this idea: "The daughters of Israel are beautiful, but poverty disfigures them" [Nedarim 9:10]. Similarly, the Jewish people are beautiful, but the difficulties and the povery of the Diaspora distort them.
Who speaks about luxuries? I remember I wanted a bicycle. It was as far from me as a Chinese warlord is distant from us at this moment. I wanted a ball. I could not afford to buy one. I made an artificial ball from paper and glue. Yet we were in the middle class. The so-called proletarians were simply hungry. They did not have enough bread to eat.
Under such circumstances the Jew sacrificed, and sometimes he acted in an ugly fashion. He was cantankerous and constantly started fights. Nevertheless, the Jewish people were basically beautiful. Sometimes they were defiled because of trouble and indifferent, cruel circumstances which corrupted them. [emph mine]
~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, volume 1, 262-263
Once a layman was greasing the axle wheels of his cart and simultaneously saying his morning prayers. One Rabbi saw this and was horrified, believing that what the man was doing was an insult to God and to the prayers. He upbraided the man. Another man, a Hassidic master, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed with love and joy, "Look how much your people love you, O God, even when they grease the axle wheels they pray to you!"
These men all have something in common: their love for the Jewish people. This love so colors their view that everything must be seen in ways that will help and defend the Jewish people, that will spare even those who sin and where they can justify or excuse them due to their poverty. This is not to say that these men were unaware of halakha or of the law. Moses was certainly aware that the Jews had committed a grave sin when they erected and served the Golden Calf. Nevertheless, he prayed on their behalf, and he did not pray for them to repent but rather for them to be spared, to be saved.
This is the love of the Jewish people that we most need to emulate nowadays. I may be aware that what you are doing is halakhically incorrect or wrong or I may see that you act in a fashion inappropriate to your status. Of course, if I have the ability to rectify this by simply pointing this out to you- if you're the kind of person who is willing to listen and I am the appropriate party to convey such information- I can and should. But that is not always the case. And what am I to do then, stew and be angry because people are not acting as they perhaps "should?" No, I don't think so. Then I must go craft excuses and justifications and pray for the welfare of our people Israel. Then I must explain to God- as Rabbi Soloveitchik does- what it is that it is impacting our people and leading them, perhaps, astray. Does he not know this? Of course he does. But it is upon me to bring it to his attention. It is upon me to craft the arguments and defenses and to tell God that "the Egyptians will speak," or that the people are only acting as they are because of their poverty or explain that everything they do is meant well, look, "even when they grease the axle wheels they pray to you!"
Why is it upon me? Two reasons.
1. So that I may understand and love my own people instead of hating them or hating any who are unlike me. I must engage in such diversions and arguments in order to build my own empathy and understanding and realization that we are all part of one nation.
2. "Every person has the ability to be as righteous as Moses our teacher or as wicked as Jeroboam." Moses prayed for the Jews at all costs, even at times when it would have been easier for him to abandom them or to give God leave to destroy them. He used any and all arguments at his disposal, including those that seem quite irrelevant, "the Egyptians will speak." Jeroboam, on the other hand, wanted to exercise his own power to the point where he caused his people to sin and created golden calves for them to worship and new holidays. Jeroboam cared so little about his people that he actually led them to sin under the guise of furthering their religiosity.
Obviously, we all want to be like Moses.
Which means that I have to understand my brethren and rather than condemning them, defend them. Which is the reason behind why I say that our people errs out of love rather than hate and that everyone means well. Because I think we do. And I also think it is our defense.
"God, look at your people," I can say. "We love you so much that we are all fighting because of you. What you see as baseless hatred are actually people who are striving so hard to fulfill your precepts and your laws that they have perhaps lost sight of the real goal. Everyone wants others to please you and to deserve the goods that you give us. And that is the reason that people will mistakenly hurt others, that they will act in a cruel fashion towards them or turn them away from you. They mean well, God; they simply don't know how to implement their good intentions in a good way. But they're trying. Surely you cannot be angry at such people? Surely you see how good they mean to be?
"God, we may be misguided but we are sincere. Everyone wants to come close to you and to help others do the same. Even those who attack you or believe you do not exist merely aim to help. The skeptics and the atheists simply feel sorrow for those who they feel are caught in an extremist religion that limits and hurts us. They are acting out of compassion and out of love as well, because they want us to realize that this is unnecessary. And so they, too, you should understand and act kindly towards. Because they are not against you purposely, because they hate you, but rather because they believe you are a figment created by others for the purposes of enslavement and they wish to free others from that.
"God, in the end, the great majority of us- of all of us- are good people. So please look at all of our mistakes, our fights and hatreds and the grudges we bear one another, and realize that this is all because we do not have any of the gifts you once gave us: we do not have prophecy, which could prove who is right once and for all, we do not have open miracles, we do not have men who commune with you. We only have our minds and our hearts and your laws and we struggle, God. But we mean well, in the end, the great majority of us mean well, even if we are hurting and attacking one another while we do it. But please forgive us, God, all of us, because you see, our defense is this: we are trying to fight for You; there are those of us who truly mean well but who hurt others instead, and if they knew what they did, I am sure they would not. I know that I would not, if I realized."
Yes, let us defend our people. That is the only way for us to grow.