By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
Hashem spoke to Moshe: “Go down, for your people whom you brought out of Egypt has acted corruptly.”
“Your people . . . has acted corruptly.” It does not say, “The people has acted corruptly,” but rather “Your people.” This refers to the mixed multitude that you accepted on your own, and you converted them without consulting with Me. For you said it is good that converts should attach themselves to the Shechinah. They acted corruptly, and corrupted others.
—Rashi, ad loc.
Who are the people? From here we learn that wherever it says amcha, “your people,” it refers to the eirev rav. They were a major source of trouble during the first few years that K’lal Yisrael were in the Midbar. Their negative actions did not come to an end with the cheit ha’eigel.
Yet, at the end of our parashah we find the following:
“He said, ‘Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do wonders that were never created in all the earth and in all the nations. All this people, in whose midst you are, will see the deed of Hashem. For that which I am doing with you is awesome.’” (Sh’mos 34:10)
Hashem forgives K’lal Yisrael after the cheit ha’eigel. He makes a covenant and promises that He will do miracles that have never been seen before. Who are the lucky people to merit all this? “Your people”—amcha. This verse speaks of coming miracles, apparently those connected to the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. Why would Hashem make a special covenant with the eirev rav and wish to show great miracles specifically to them? This surely cannot be the meaning of the pasuk. Here is how Targum Yonasan explains it:
“He said, ‘Behold, I am making a covenant to not exchange this people for another people. Indeed, from you will go out multitudes of tzaddikim. In front of all your people I will do miracles for them. At the time when they will go in captivity to the rivers of Babylon, I will take them out from there and I will bring them to dwell inside from the Sambatyon River, and other similar miracles that were never created in all the inhabitants of the earth and in all the peoples. And all this people among whom you dwell will see the deed of Hashem on that day, for that which I am doing with you is awesome.’” (Targum Yonasan, ibid.)
According to this, the word amcha has a different meaning. When the Targum Yonasan says, “Indeed, from you will go out multitudes of tzaddikim,” this refers to what is stated in the following Gemara (Berachos 7a):
Said Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Yosi: Every utterance that left the mouth of HaKadosh Baruch Hu for the good, even if it was on condition, was not retracted. How do we know? From Moshe Rabbeinu. It says (Devarim, ch. 9), “Leave Me alone and I will destroy them . . . and I will make you into a great nation.” Although Moshe prayed regarding this matter, and nullified it, it was still fulfilled for his offspring. For it says (Divrei HaYamim 1, ch. 23), “The sons of Moshe were Gershom and Eliezer. And the sons of Eliezer were Rechaviah the leader . . . and the sons of Rechaviah increased greatly.” And Rav Yosef taught: They were more than 600,000. This is learned from a gezeirah shavah between “r’viya” and “r’viya.” Here it says “ravu l’ma’ala,” and there (Sh’mos, ch. 1) it says, “The Israelites were fruitful and swarmed and increased (vayirbu).
It turns out that there were actually two groups who could be described as “your people.” There was the eirev rav that Moshe brought out of Egypt, and there was the “great nation” that Hashem promised would descend from Moshe. Although this promise was conditional, Hashem keeps His good promises regardless of whether the condition is fulfilled. Thus, the Targum Yonasan, which explains this pasuk as referring to the future ge’ulah, is saying that Moshe’s personal nation of righteous descendants will benefit from the covenant and see these miracles.
This explains the verse on a Midrashic level, but the verse’s plain meaning is speaking of K’lal Yisrael and the miracles of their entry to Eretz Yisrael. This must be so because the parashah goes on to describe how Hashem will drive out the Canaanite and Emorite nations. So we now return to the question: Why are the Jews called “your people,” a term usually reserved for the eirev rav?
We could possibly answer by way of comparison with Noach. Before Noach entered the teivah, he was prohibited to slaughter animals in order to eat them, but when he came out, he was allowed to do this. Why? Because Noach saved them. Thanks to Noach they all survived, so they were given over to him. Let’s extrapolate this idea to Moshe Rabbeinu. When the Jews committed the cheit ha’eigel, they were sentenced by Heaven to utter destruction. Moshe came along and saved them. Due to this, they became Moshe’s nation. They owed their very existence to him. Now, all of K’lal Yisrael is called “your people.”
This parallels Moshe’s prayer on behalf of K’lal Yisrael, in which he repeatedly calls them “Your people.”
“Moshe pleaded before Hashem his G‑d, saying: ‘Hashem, why should Your anger flare up against Your people whom You brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand. . . . Turn back from Your fierce anger and retract regarding the evil to Your people.’” (Sh’mos 32:11–12)
“And see that this nation is Your people.” (ibid. 33:13)
“And through what shall it become known that I have found grace in Your eyes, I and Your people—is it not through Your going with us, that I and Your people will be separated from all the peoples who are on the face of the earth?” (ibid., v. 16)
“I prayed to Hashem and said, ‘O L‑rd, G‑d, do not destroy Your people.’” (Devarim 9:26)
“They are Your people and Your inheritance that You brought out with Your great strength and Your outstretched arm.” (ibid. v. 29)
Moshe’s refrain is to call Israel “Your people.” And Hashem’s response to Moshe was middah k’neged middah: All of Israel will be considered “your people.” v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores: Machat shel Yad Bereishis, Sh’mos and Vayikra.