The Almighty informs Moses that the people have built a molten calf, are bowing to it, bringing sacrifices to it and tells him to go down to see for himself. (Exodus 32:7-8). Moses descends from the mountain with the two tablets in his hands and is so shocked by what he sees that he smashes the tablets at the foot of the mountain (verse 19).
It’s hard to understand why Moses is so upset by what he saw since God told him exactly what the people were doing. Why was he so shocked?
Well, God doesn’t tell him exactly what was going on. In reading the text of what Moses actually sees, there is one word that doesn’t appear in God’s description of the goings on. It was the dancing! It was one thing for the people to be doing the wrong thing – but for them to be into it, celebrating their sin – that was too much for Moses.
The Talmud suggests that the Jewish people faced annihilation at the hands of Haman in the Purim story because they enjoyed themselves at the party thrown by Achashverosh (Megillah 12a). The commentaries point out that if they had just gone and eaten because it would have been dangerous to not go – they could have been excused. But they didn’t feel bad about having to go – they thoroughly enjoyed themselves! That was the problem.
Deuteronomy 28 describes the great punishments that would await the Jewish people if we stray from God. One climactic statement gives the bottom line for why we would face calamities: Because you didn’t serve God with joy and goodness of heart…(verse 47). It is hard to understand how we would face such dire punishments for not serving God with enough joy.
The Kotzker Rebbe, however, spins the passage in a novel way: Because your not serving God was with joy…” It is one thing not to serve God. But to be thrilled not to serve Him – that’s asking for trouble.