This week’s Parsha includes the complex story of the Chet HaEgel, the sin of the golden calf. Many questions come to mind while reading how the same nation that followed God out of Egypt suddenly came to sin by worshipping a golden calf. The problem only worsens when the people say, “...these are your gods, O Israel, who took you out of the Land of Egypt.” (32:4). Their behavior just does not seem to make sense!
In order to understand this story, we must look at its progression and what could have led them to sin. First, why were Bnei Yisrael so impatient? We know they sinned because Moshe had not returned from the mountain, but if we embrace the Midrash that they waited for Moshe to return for 40 days and miscounted, why would they sin after thinking Moshe was just one day late? Indeed, according to the Pshat in the Pesukim, the people never really knew the exact date Moshe was supposed to return, so why would they be so impatient about counting days?
There seems to be a much simpler answer. We must remember that this was not the first time that Moshe had gone up to Har Sinai. Earlier visits took only a few days. Therefore, Bnei Yisrael had good reason to assume that this time Moshe would not be gone any longer. They could not even imagine that it would take this long to get the Luchot. Therefore, it made sense for them to ask how much longer they could wait for him to return.
Another glaring problem is that it simply does not make sense to think this nation would turn to idol worship. After all, they believed in Hashem! Rav Avraham Bornstein (the Rebbe of Sochaczev) suggests that there was a deeper meaning behind Moshe’s absence that led them to this sin. As long as Moshe was around, he and Bnei Yisrael were connected, and he helped the nation stay out of trouble. Moshe was an inspiration for each of them. Once he went up to Har Sinai, however, he took all of his light and put it into understanding the Torah so that he would be able to properly teach it to the people. However, the people lost their connection to him. When they felt his presence move from them, they became concerned, as well as uninspired. At this point, the Satan was able to bring them to this sin which they would normally never have considered.