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After the sin of the golden calf, Moses concludes his prayers asking G-d to give the Israelites another chance with:
Please G-d, go with us. Even though (we) are a stubborn people, forgive our sins and iniquities, and make us Your heritage (34:9).
G-d replies with:
Behold! I seal a covenant. Before your people I shall create the distinction that I have never made before. Everyone around shall see the hand of G-d, in what I will be doing with you' (34:10).
And then G-d continues with the details of the Israelites being ordered to eradicate paganism from their new surroundings, on entry to the Promised Land.
The word 'niflaot' is translated 'distinction' in the sentence: 'Before your people I shall create the type of distinction that I have never made before'.
The more common translation of 'niflaot' is 'wonders' or 'miracles'. The Ramban writes that that cannot be the translation here, because the future of the nation had never included any greater miracles than those in Egypt and at the Red Sea. It is translated as 'distinction' to refer to the special relationship that He will have with the entire nation (Rashi), or to Moses, who will be recognized by all as the person with whom G-d has a special relationship.
However, it may be argued that the word 'niflaot' may be translated simultaneously as 'wonders' 'miracles' and at the same time 'distinction', by looking at the nature of the covenant.
There was no dark side to the earlier covenant on Mount Sinai. There, the terms of the covenant were: 'If you obey My voice… you will be a special people to Me' (19:5). The Israelites responded with: 'We will do all that G-d says' (19:8). There were no ominous rumblings of what would happen if the Israelites would not obey.
In contrast, after the sin of the golden calf, G-d seems to have agreed to 'go with' the Israelites, but on different terms. This was a new relationship, post the sin of the golden calf; post the fall of the Israelites.
It is based on the word 'niflaot', together with its double meanings.
As long as the Israelites follow in G-d's framework, He would ensure that they would receive His protection and support at all times. That backing would be to such a degree that 'everyone around shall see the hand of G-d, in what I will be doing with you'. Through His delivering His people against overwhelming odds - such as in the miracle of Purim - 'all humanity will see that the name of G-d is upon you, and will respect you' (Deut. 28:10). Thus the word 'nifla' means both 'distinction' - for good, and the means of making that distinction 'wonders' 'miracles': positively intervening in the Israelites' favor so that all will realize the Hand of G-d in His people's destiny.
But where the Israelites deliberately forsake the Creator, He would deliberately 'set' His 'face' (Lev. 26:17) against His people. He would indeed create 'wonders' 'miracles' so that the world would wonder how the Israelites' have been 'distinguished' in the degree of suffering amongst the various nations who were to afflict them throughout the ages…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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