[similarly, we find in Ezekiel 20:5, 21-22]: But the children rebelled against Me. They walked not in My statutes nor kept My ordinances which if a man do, he shall live by them. [...] I said I would pour out My wrath on them, to spend My anger on them in the wilderness. Yet I withdrew My hand and acted for My Name's sake, lest it be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I brought them forth.
This last quotation, regarding Israel's sins in the wilderness and G-d's decision not to destroy them lest His Name be profaned, relates to the sins of the golden calf and of the spies. The golden calf was an unbearably grave sin, and part of its punishment attaches itself to every single punishment brought upon the Jewish People, as our sages said (Sanhedrin 102a): There is no punishment that comes to the world which does not contain a minuscule portion of the [punishment for the] golden calf, as it says (Ex. 32:34), “On the day I visit, I will take this sin of theirs into account.”G-d was furious at a nation which, less than forty days after He revealed Himself at Sinai and they said they would first fulfill the Torah and only then seek explanations, exchanged their glory “for the likeness of an ox that eats grass” (Ps. 106:20). G-d decided to destroy this sinful nation, as it says (Ex. 32:10 ), “Now do not try to stop Me when I unleash My wrath against them to destroy them” and (Deut. 9:14), “Leave Me alone and I will destroy them, obliterating their name from under the heavens.” Moses, in his infinite love for the Jewish People, prostrated himself in prayer and entreaty for forty days and forty nights to tear up the evil decree, and none of his arguments had any effect – except for one!
It says (Deut. 9:25-29): Because the L-rd said He would destroy you, I threw myself down before Him for forty days and forty nights. My prayer to the L-rd was, “L-rd G-d! Do not destroy Your nation and heritage, which You liberated with Your greatness and which You brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pay not attention to the stubbornness of this nation or to their wickedness and sin. Do not let the land from which You took them say, 'The L-rd brought them out to kill them in the desert, because He hated them and was powerless to bring them to the land He promised them.' After all, they are Your people and Your heritage. You brought them out with Your great power and Your outstretched arm.”
“Powerless!” Moses, the faithful shepherd who sacrificed himself for his love of Israel, entreated G-d on behalf of his people and cried out his last argument: “What will the nations say, in ridicule and mockery? Surely they will curse and blaspheme G-d , scornfully claiming that He is 'powerless'”. Israel were the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, chosen to be G-d's holy treasure, His special nation. Their destruction would have constituted G-d's reneging on His covenant due to inability to fulfill it. For this reason alone, “G-d refrained from doing the evil that He planned for His people” (Ex. 32:14).
[About 1400 years later,] R. Yishmael ben Elisha was the last Kohen Gadol before the destruction of the Second Temple. It was clear to R. Yishmael in his holiness and divine inspiration that G-d was about to pour out His wrath on His nation, His land and His Temple. [See] Berachot 7 a: One time I entered the Holy of Holies to bring the incense, and there I saw Akatriel Y-H, the L-rd of Hosts, sitting on a high and lofty throne. He said to me, “Yishmael, My son, bless me!” and I said to Him, “May it be Your will that Your mercy should conquer and override Your anger, and You should treat Your children with mercy, going beyond the letter of the law,” and He nodded His head to me. These words are hard to understand [...]. Does G-d need a blessing from mortal man on Yom Kippur, when He judges and rules over the whole world? Even stranger is R. Ishmael's blessing. How did he know that G-d would find it favorable? R. Yishmael knew that G-d was about to destroy His Temple and exile His children, which would lead to terrible Chilul Hashem. The nations' derisive question, “Where is their G-d?” would deprive G-d of His sovereignty, and He, too, would be in exile and servitude, so to speak. R. Yishmael understood that in this “zero hour”, G-d desired a solution that would spare His having to profane His name through the exile of His children and destruction of His Temple.
[We learn from this that for the sanctification of His Name G-d is even willing to forgo strict justice. But if so to speak, G-d can overcome himself and bridle His anger for His Name's sake, this must be reciprocated by us overcoming ourselves, even our love for others and our personal values, for His Name's sake and His eternal values]
When Moses saw the terrible Chilul Hashem of the golden calf episode, in which “they exchanged their glory for the likeness of an ox that consumes grass” (Ps. 106:20), he immediately understood that only self-sacrifice and Kiddush Hashem would save Israel from G-d's ire. It therefore says (Ex. 32:26-27, 29): [Moses] announced, “Whoever is for the L-rd, join me!” All the Leviim gathered around him. He said to them, “This is what the L-rd G-d of Israel says: Let each man put on his sword ... Let each one kill [all those involved in the idolatry], even his own brother, close friend or relative”... Moses said, “Today you shall be spiritually completed as a tribe dedicated to th L-rd, with a special blessing. Men have been willing to kill even their own sons and brothers [at G-d's command].”
Because of the self-sacrifice and Kiddush Hashem of the Leviim, which demonstrated their complete trust in G-d, G-d replaced the firstborn, chosen originally to be G-d's priests, with Leviim: “I have now taken the Leviim in place of all the firstborn Israelites” (Num. 8:18) G-d did this only because they had reached the pinnacle of self-sacrifice and Kiddush Hashem, when they were ready to kill their relatives and parents. This act demonstrated that their love of G-d superseded even their love for their most cherished relative. Following is Ramban (Ibid., v. 26): Seeing that the people were an object of ridicule in their neighbor's eyes, this being a Chilul Hashem, he stood at the gates of the camp and cried out, “Whoever is for the L-rd, join me!” (Ex. 332:26). He publicly killed all those who worshiped the calf, so that Israel's enemies should hear and the Name of Heaven should be sanctified through them, instead of the Chilul Hashem they had perpetrated.
Or HaChaim (Ex. 32:29) relates to the killing of Israelites: We might think that someone who did such a thing was spiritually flawed, possessing cruelty associated with wickedness. Moses therefore said, “Today you shall be spiritually completed” (Ex. 32:29). This is not a command, but an announcement that this day their spiritual powers would be made complete. Their deed was not a sign of any spiritual flaw. Quite the contrary, their “willingness to kill even their own sons” (Ibid) signified their approaching spiritual perfection.
The pinnacle of bitachon, sacrificing oneself for Kiddush Hashem, involves being ready to elevate one's love of G-d above one's love of people. [Similarly] G-d commanded us regarding the apostate city. If we hear of a city led astray by evildoers, such that its inhabitants went and worshiped idols, we must destroy that city and all its inhabitants with their property, until it remains an eternal ruin. Kill all the inhabitants of the city by the sword... Burn the city along with all its goods, entirely, to the L-rd your G-d... The L-rd will then have mercy on you, and in His mercy he will make you flourish... (Deut. 13, 16-18)
No mitzvah in the Torah is harder for the Jew than to destroy an entire Jewish city, and his whole nature rebels against this command. [If this goes even for a Jewish city, please understand its implications regarding non-Jewish entities in the Land of Israel!] If, all the same, he overcomes his selfishness and suppresses his evil impulse via this mitzvah, how great shall be his reward! How fully has he brought G-d, the Supreme King, to reign over him and accepted G-d's yoke. It is truly as if he has fulfilled all the mitzvot.
Imagine how hard it is, how cruel it is for a person to obey G-d with such self-sacrifice as this! Yet, only in this way will G-d sanctify His Name and bring the redemption. Our sages, likewise, said (Pesikta Rabbati, 31): “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning” (Ps. 137:5): R. Elazar HaKapar envisioned G-d saying: “My Torah is in your hands and the end of days is in My hands, and we both need each other. Just as you need Me to bring the end, I need you to keep My Torah, to hasten the rebuilding of My house and of Jerusalem. Just as I cannot possibly forget the end, as it says, 'Let My right hand lose its cunning,' so have you no right to forget the Torah, which stated, 'From His right hand went out a fiery law for them' (Deut. 33:2).”
Listen well, O Israel! G-d, Himself, decrees His dependency upon Israel, so to speak, our “both needing each other.” Had our sages not said this, who could have dared express it? Yet, once they did say it, how can we continue our rebellion against G-d, a rebellion rendered foolish and inane in light of these words? After all, G-d admits, so to speak, that in order to hasten the building of Jerusalem and the Temple, in order to return once more as King, thereby sanctifying His Name and eliminating the terrible Chilul Hashem, He needs Israel. That is, it is enough if Israel resume Torah observance, and then, for His own sake, to sanctify His Name, He will return to Eretz Israel and bring the redemption. Thus, G-d is “dependent” on us, and why should we not understand this? One might ask: Why does G-d enable flesh and blood to dictate decrees to Him?
The answer is simple: G-d fiercely longs to sanctify His Name, profaned daily by the nations, but He demands that Israel sanctify His Name first through complete and perfect faith and trust in G-d. They must take hold of the dangerous, frightening mitzvot which leave them isolated and alone with the nations opposing them, for only this can prove their real trust in Him.