The Torah tells us that Moshe prayed three separate times during the episode of the golden calf and its aftermath. We see this in Parshiot Ki Tisa and Eikev. The Rav explains that Moshe asked Hashem for three things: to forgive the people and save them from total destruction, to reaccept the Jewish People, and to give the Luchot a second time (according to some, Moshe destroyed the Luchot willingly to save the people). By destroying the Luchot, Moshe severed the obligation of the people to follow the commandments, including the commandment forbidding the creation of an idol. Chazal compare this to a case of a woman whose was betrothed on a condition (Kidushin Al Tinai) and committed adultery. To save her from the death penalty, her husband breaks the condition, thus nullifying the marriage. Moshe was begging Hashem for a new “marriage” to the people, now that the Luchot were broken.
After Moshe successfully saves the people, receives the Luchot again, and has a new “wedding” with Hashem, he makes a strange final request. In Parshat Eikev, Moshe says he prayed for forty days when he went to receive the second set of Luchot. This last prayer was for Hashem to travel in the midst of Bnai Yisrael instead of sending an angel to lead the way. The Rav explained this in the following way. The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 17b) point out that the word Hashem appears twice among the thirteen attributes revealed to Moshe during his forty days on the mountain. The Gemara explains that one refers to Hashem before man sins, while the other refers to Hashem after man sins and repents. Hashem promises to return the sinner who repents to the status he enjoyed before his sin as if the sin never happened. The second name of Hashem teaches that Hashem never forsakes man in a state of sin and always is nearby, pushing man to repent.
Rav Chaim of Volozhin says that Hashem is referred to as both a father and a mother in Tanach. Why are both attributes necessary? After all, both parents love their child, and it is impossible to say whose love is greater. He answered that when a father comes home from work he takes his child and plays with him. As soon as the child soils his diaper, some fathers will hand the child to the mother and say, “Here, take him.” The mother will instinctively take the child and wash him, and once he is clean he will be handed back to the father. Rav Chaim said that if Hashem treated mankind only from the perspective of the father, He would discard us the moment we dirtied ourselves with sin. It is the motherly attribute of Hashem that pushes the Jew to repent. It is the motherly attribute that expresses itself through the G-d Who dwells with Bnai Yisrael even in the midst of their defilement, Who is willing to cleanse the Jews from their spiritual impurity.
Hashem said that an angel would lead Bnai Yisrael. Moshe responded that Hashem should lead them. What was so terrible about being led by an angel of Hashem? Moshe said that while Hashem forgave the people and returned them to their original status after this episode, what would happen the next time they sinned? What would happen after Moshe disappeared from the scene; who would stand behind the Jews and whisper in their ears “repent!” if Hashem was not right there? Moshe asked Hashem to travel in their midst, because not only did they need Hashem with them when the Luchot were intact, but they would need Hashem in their midst because they are a stiff-necked nation. Such a problem would happen again, and Bnai Yisrael would need Hashem to push them to repent. The Rav explained that the reason we say, “Ata Noten Yad Laposhim,” “You offer a hand to those that have sinned,” and not, “Ata Mikabel Shavim,” “You accept those who repent,” is because Hashem comes to a Jew while he is still in the depths of sin and offers him a way out of the abyss of sin even before the Jew looks for help. Hashem comforts him with the thought that He will be with him every step of the way on the road to repentance.
This is seen throughout Jewish history. The Jews worshiped idols, but they always repented. In the time of Achashveirosh, 12,000 Jews enjoyed the hospitality of the king’s party, but a short while later, they all repented when faced with the decree of death. (From a Shiur given by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik February 26, 1957)
There is a Midrash that says that the world was created like the letter “Hey.” Just as the letter “Hey” is open on the bottom, it is very easy for Hashem’s creations to sin and fall through the big opening. The “Hey,” though, also has an opening towards the top. This connection between man and Hashem is a never-ending connection; we just have to remember that Hashem’s door is always open.