After the sin of the golden calf, God decides upon a most severe punishment: the annihilation of the Jewish People. At that point, Moshe Rabeinu steeps himself in prayer in an effort to abolish the decree.
What was the argument Moshe used in order to remove the terrifying decree? “Why 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”. In Parashat Eikev as well (Dvarim, 9:28), Moshe retells the episode: “Lest they say…because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land (of) which He promised unto them…” In other words, when Moshe understood that the sin was so great and ran out of statements of defense, the “clincher argument” he called upon to prevent the annihilation of Israel was, in essence, “what will the goyim say”.
In the sin of the spies episode, as well, God decides to wipe out Israel. There, too, interestingly enough, Moshe uses the same argument to nullify the decree: “And the Egyptians will hear…and the nations which have heard of the fame of Thee will say: because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to them, therefore He has slain them in the wilderness” (BaMidbar, 14:13-16)
And so the question that begs asking is: That’s the reason Israel was not wiped out? Only because, “what will the goyim say”?? And without this, it’s OK to wipe them out?
From here we learn a basic tenet of Judaism regarding Am Yisrael which must be repeated a thousand times over: The Name of God and of Am Yisrael is connected to one another in a direct way. It is a connection that cannot be severed. This is why the degradation of the Jewish People is a degradation of His Holy Name, and the elevation of the Jewish People is a sanctification of His Name.
Deep in the recesses of their consciousness, the goyim have always sensed since the beginning of history, that the Jewish People are tied to the true God. But it is difficult for them to come to terms with this. They have always tried to deny this, but it is precisely their hysterical denials which bear out this point. Their obsessive hate for Jews, and their attempts to replace the Jews as the chosen ones – from Esau to Pharo to Nebuchadnezer to Christianity, until the Germans and Arabs of today – all this is proof that their conscious gives them no rest. This is the deeper understanding of the saying: “Esau hates Yaakov”, which is manifested today in a phenomenon coined “anti-Semitism.”
This is why whenever the Jews were weak and oppressed, the goyim felt like winners. Pharo saw it that way when he oppressed “bnei Yisrael”; the Romans saw the destruction of the Temple as a victory of their god over the God of Israel; and in the same fashion the Christians explained from a theological standpoint why the Jews suffered in the long exile.
This historical pattern is no coincidence. It is a law of nature which God set down at the very core of the creation: it is part of the eternal and uncompromising struggle of mankind – will man acknowledge the Lord of Israel or won’t he.
The Eternal Connection
For this reason, when God informed Moshe of his intention to wipe out Israel, Moshe “reminded” Him that even if Israel’s deeds justify such a punishment, and even if the merit of the fathers is not enough to atone for such a severe sin – Hashem “cannot” go through with it! For the moment Hashem, God forbid, erases Israel from the map, He simultaneously, so to speak, erases His own Name, since it is directly connected to that of Israel’s.
This is the meaning of, “why should the Egyptians say”. In this case, what they have to say is critical. For their perception that the god of Egypt is strong and the God of Israel hasn’t the strength to sustain His people is proof that He, himself, doesn’t exist. We are talking about a “Hillul Hashem” (desecration of His Name) in the deepest sense.
When Does God “Live”?
In Parashat Shlach, following the sin of the spies, God says something to Moshe which is simply amazing. Immediately after God tells Moshe, “I have pardoned, according to thy word”, (that is, I forgive them for the reason you mentioned) the verse continues, “but truly, as I live…”
The Gemorah in Tractate Brachot says: “Which teaches us that the Almighty told him: Moshe, you have made Me live with your words”. If the Gemorah didn’t say it, we would never dare say such a thing. Hashem is saying to Moshe: By “preventing” Me from wiping out Israel, you have made Me come to life! Why? Because if I had destroyed Israel, then I, too, so to speak, would not have existed. This is Hillul Hashem in the literal sense of the word – Hillul (desecration) being derived from the hebrew word “halal”, which means vacuum or empty. Hashem would have been “emptied” from the world!
This lesson should be with us when we try to understand the events taking place in this generation. God promised that even if we are not worthy, we will still be redeemed. Why? The prophet Ezekhiel says (36): “Not for your sakes shall I do this, but for My Holy Name’s sake which you have profaned among the nations”. This is precisely the idea Moshe told Hashem in Parashat Ki-Tisa and Parashat Shlach. God’s Name is tied to our name, and thus, He cannot destroy us. For the same reason he must redeem us from the depths, and raise us high.