A GUEST POST BY NETANEL OF GSHMAKA DVAR TORAH
Twice in our history Hashem has said He wanted to destroy the Jews, and twice Moshe "argued" with Hashem and won: by the Golden Calf and the spies.
The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 44:9 + Bamidbar Rabba 16:22) have 4 stage conversations with Moshe and Hashem:
1. Hashem says He wants to destroy the Jews
2. Moshe says that Hashem made a promise to the Patriarchs
3. Hashem says that He will let Moshe be the sole survivor, and fulfil the promise through Moshe
Here is where they differ - at the Golden Calf Moshe says that he cannot become a nation, as he only represents one tribe - Levi! Moshe says that all the Tribes have an assurance, at which point Hashem concedes the argument and lets the Jews live.
By the spies, this fourth point is different - Moshe says that letting the nation continue through him would be a Chillul Hashem - a desecration of G-d's Name - that people would speculate that Hashem could not sustain them in the desert, and so they died. Hashem replies that these people will have heard of His miracles in Egypt, so this would have no basis! Moshe counters by saying that perhaps people will say that the kings of Canaan were too great for the G-d of the Jews, at which point G-d concedes the argument and lets the Jews live.
R' Yehoshua Hartman points out that it is clear that the Golden Calf argument was better - life continued as normal. The spies arguments clearly wasn't so great - all the Jews of that generation died out and they wandered in the desert for an additional 39 years as a result! Why didn't Moshe use the tried and tested winning argument, that the Tribes also had an assurance?
In our Parsha, Ki Sisa, Moshe says: זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָהֶם בָּךְ וַתְּדַבֵּר אֲלֵהֶם אַרְבֶּה אֶת זַרְעֲכֶם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם וְכָל הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי אֶתֵּן לְזַרְעֲכֶם וְנָחֲלוּ לְעֹלָם - "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your very Self, and to whom You said: 'I will multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens, and all this land which I said that I would give to your seed, they shall keep it as their possession forever'" (32:13)
Where is the assurance about the Tribes? And why mention the promise about the land, out of all the promises He had made to the Patriarchs?
The Gemara (Bava Basra 122a) discusses how the land was divided up, and concludes that it was divided up amongst the tribes. The Brisker Rov points out that mentioning the land is therefore a mention of the tribes, which answers a point that may be bothering the more astute reader - what assurance to the tribes were we referring to?)
Armed as we are with this knowledge, the Ramban (14:17) answers why Moshe could not winning argument that had worked so well by the Golden Calf again when he argued with GHashem about the spies - he could not mention the land - as the spies had explicitly stated that they did not want it!
R' Yehoshua Hartman points out the difference between the question and answer stage. When we asked why Moshe could not use the winning argument, we thought that the assurance was independent of anything, at the answer stage we realised that the assurance is tied and intrinsic to the land.
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