Rebels! I will Love You Forever

July 23, 2023

Before he died, Moses delivered an epic speech to the people of Israel – a speech that we know today as the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses’ final message to his people contains many of the most powerful, frightening and deeply inspirational verses in the Bible. During the months leading up to the High Holidays, the holy days of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the Jewish people traditionally read the Book of Deuteronomy, for its powerful messages encourage us to repent and return to God.

But sometimes Moses’ great speech is an emotional rollercoaster.

This week, Jews throughout the world will read Moses’ recounting of the sin of the Golden Calf. Moses holds no punches; his description of the people’s shameful sin is direct and painful:

”I saw how you had sinned against Hashem your God: you had made yourselves a molten calf; you had been quick to stray from the path that Hashem had enjoined upon you… As for that sinful thing you had made, the calf, I took it and put it to the fire; I broke it to bits and ground it thoroughly until it was fine as dust, and I threw its dust into the brook that comes down from the mountain… You have been rebels against Hashem, as long as I have known you!” (Deuteronomy 9:16, 21, 24)

The people of Israel, Moses makes clear, are “rebels against God” – and they always have been! It’s hard to imagine more painful words than this. And yet, only a few verses later, Moses radically changes his tone:

“Yet it was to your fathers that Hashem was drawn in His love for them, so that He chose you, their lineal descendants, from among all peoples – as is now the case.” (Deuteronomy 10:15)

“God loves you!” says Moses to the people – “just as He loved your forefathers!” Moses emphasizes that God’s great love for His people continues even now, even after the sin of the golden calf.

What are we to make of this? Why does Moses excoriate the people as rebels, only to remind them of God’s great love for them a few verses later?

“The great virtue of religion, of course, is not so much its ability to help men succeed, although, of course, it can help them succeed. The great virtue of religion lies in its ability to console men in the midst of failure, to permit them to function even in the midst of despair” (Michael Beran, The Last Patrician: Bobby Kennedy and the End of American Aristocracy).

The Bible is God’s guidebook for how to live a holy life. By following God’s commandments, we become holy and moral people who can rise to heights even greater than that of angels. But the Bible does not only teach us how to live a holy life; it also gives us strength and comfort when we fail to live up to its teachings.

When Moses tore into the people of Israel, rebuking them for their sins, he had a clear goal in mind. He was really saying: “People of Israel – you are capable of so much more than this! You can and must live a life of holiness!” The Bible is no refuge for those who wish to live a comfortably mediocre life.

But within a few verses, Moses’ tone and message changed. He reminded them that God loved them – even now, even after all their sins. Yes – the Bible is a guidebook for holy living, but it is more than that. It is a testament to God’s eternal love.

May we never stop fighting for holiness and doing our very best to live up to God’s holy word. But at the same, may we always remember that even if we fail – as we inevitably will – God will continue to love us.

“An eternal love I conceived for you then; therefore I continue My grace to you.” (Jeremiah 31:2)

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

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