This week’s Torah reading recalls how Moshe sacrificed himself for the Jewish people after the Sin of the Golden Calf. After G‑d told him that He would destroy the Jews because of their sin and make a new nation from Moses’ descendants, Moses replied: “If You would, forgive their sin. And if not, blot me from the book You have written.”

Moses was willing to sacrifice his life for the Jews who sinned and committed the worst transgression possible, building the Golden Calf. Our Rabbis note the difference between three outstanding figures: Noah, Abraham, and Moses. When G‑d told Noah that He would destroy the world with the Flood, Noah set about building the Ark. It’s true that if anyone came to him and asked why he was building it, he would tell him and urge him to repent, but he did not press the point. And He didn’t argue with G‑d at all. Quite the contrary, he was willing to enter the ark with no one else but his family.

Abraham was different. When G‑d told him that He was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Amorah, Abraham contended with G‑d, putting himself on the line, petitioning that G‑d save the inhabitants of those cities. But there was a drawback. He asked: “If there are 50 righteous men…,” “If there are 45 righteous men…,” “If there are ten righteous men,” i.e., he prayed only for righteous men and when he found out that there were no righteous men in the cities, he stopped praying.

Moses prayed for a nation who had worshiped the Golden Calf. Although they had seen the revelation of G‑d at Sinai, shortly thereafter, they built an idol and sacrificed to it. And yet, Moses was willing to pray for them. Moreover, not only did he pray for them, he was willing to give up his life for them, because he could not think of a future without his people.

Often, this concept is explained in a manner where it appears that, even if the people are unworthy, Moses was willing to sacrifice himself for them. The true insight from this story is, however, more encompassing. Moses was able to appreciate the essential G‑dly nature of every person. As a result, he understood that even if one had temporarily stumbled and sinned, that sin did not alter his essence. No matter what a person does, his G‑dly essence always remains pure. Therefore, Moshe was willing to sacrifice himself for those who had momentarily faltered.

Moses is not giving of himself for an unworthy person. Moses is showing how even a person who appears unworthy is truly worthy. He looks to the core of every individual and sees his essential positive quality.

When our Sages refer to Moses, they frequently add his title: Rabbeinu, “our teacher.” Not only did Moses himself look at other people in this manner, he taught others to do so. Through his example and through his teachings, he showed us how to see the positive qualities each of our fellowmen posses and work to bring them to the surface.

Looking to the Horizon

The positive quality each one of us possesses is one of the fundamental themes of the Future Redemption. At the Pesach Seder, we tell the wicked son: “If he were there, [i.e., in Egypt,] he would not have been redeemed.” Implied is that in the Exodus from Egypt, there were wicked people who were not redeemed. But in the Future Redemption, no Jew will be left behind. The positive quality that is present within every person will come to the surface, enabling each member of our people to merit the Redemption.

This theme is further emphasized by the teachings of the Mishnah that speaks of the Resurrection of the Dead: “The entire Jewish people have a share in the World to Come, as it is written: ‘Your people are all righteous, they will forever inherit the land. [They are] the branch of My planting, the work of My hands in which I take glory.’“ The Mishnah is teaching that each one of us is G‑d’s handiwork, an extension of Him, as it were. As a result, in the ultimate era when the truth of all matters will be revealed, everyone will be resurrected. This has nothing to do with the merits a person possesses. Certainly, we all have merits, as our Sages say: “Even the sinners of Israel are as filled with mitzvos as a pomegranate is with seeds.” But without even considering one’s merits, simply by virtue of who each one of is, i.e., because of the essential G‑dly potential we all possess, we will all merit that eternal reward.

The point, however, is not to wait until the future, but to appreciate these positive qualities as they exist within our fellowmen at present and to do what we can to bring them into expression. This — both the loving outreach and the expression of the positive qualities by every individual — will serve as a catalyst, hastening the dawning of these future eras.