The Greater of the Two Sins in the Wilderness

The two great sins in the wilderness מדבר

are described by Moses in the

fifth book of the Torah

Deuteronomy דברים in Chapter 9.

These two sins were of such magnitude

that Moses had to fast

forty days and forty nights

to make intercession for Israel,

so that HASHEM would turn away

his wrath and not destroy his people.

These two sins are listed as follows:


This involved the making

of the molten calf עגל המסכה ,

and it occurred at

Mount Sinai or Horeb while

Moses was on the mountain

receiving the commandments of G-d.



This sin occurred at Kadesh-barnea

when Israel believed the evil report

of the ten spies concerning

the land of Israel.

As we look at these two sins

the question arises:

Which of these two sins was worse,

or greater in magnitude?

The answer to this question

can be obtained by examined

the severity of the punishment

and the scope of the judgments

that HASHEM imposed for each sin.

We will examine them in order

and by parts.

Part #1: Moses’ Punishment .

A. For Sin #1: Moses had to hew the second set of tablets

out of stone by himself. He also mentions this sin

only one time in the book of Deuteronomy דברים .

“At that time HASHEM said to me,

Hew yourself two tables of stone

like the first,

and come up to me

into the mount,

and make yourself

an ark of wood.

And I will write in the tables

the words that were in the first tables

which you broke,

and you shall put them in the ark.”

Deuteronomy 10:1-2.

בעת ההוא אמר יהוה אלי

פסל לך שני לוחות אבנים


ועלה אלי ההרה

ועשית לך ארון עץ:

ואכתב על הלוחות את הדברים

אשר היו על הלוחות


אשר שברת

ושמתם בארון:

B. Sin #2 Moses links this sin

to his being forbidden by HASHEM

to enter into the promised land.

He also mentions the sin two times

in the book of Deuteronomy דברים :

in Deuteronomy chapter 1 and

in Deuteronomy chapter 9.

Deuteronomy 1:34,35,37.

“And HASHEM heard

the voice of your words,

and was angry,

and swore, saying,

Surely there shall not

one of these men

of this evil generation

see that good land,

which I swore to give to your fathers…

Also HASHEM was angry with me

for your sakes, saying,

You also shall not go in there.”

וישמע יהוה

את קול דבריכם

ויקצף וישבע לאמר:

אם יראה איש

באנשים האלה

הדור הרע הזה

את הארץ הטובה

אשר נשבעתי לתת לאבתיכם:

גם בי התאנף יהוה

בגללכם לאמר

גם אתה לא תבא שם:

Here it is obvious that the

penalty for Sin #2

is more severe.

Part II: The intercession of Moses for Israel.

A. Sin #1: IDOLATRY.

Moses mentions only the Egyptians

in his intercession to HASHEM

to preserve Israel.

Exodus 32:12

“Why should the Egyptians speak, and say,

For mishchief did he bring them out,

to slay them in the mountains,

and to consume them

from the face of the earth?

Turn from your fierce wrath,

and repent of this evil

against your people.”

למה יאמרו מצרים לאמר

ברעה הוציאם

להרוג אתם בהרים

ולכלתם מעל פני האדמה

שוב מחרון אפך

והנחם על הרעה לעמך:


Moses mentions THE NATIONS

in his intercession to HASHEM

to save Israel.

“Now if you shall kill

all this people as one man,

then THE NATIONS who have heard

the fame of you

will speak, saying,

Because the LORD was not able

to bring this people

into the land which

he swore to them,

therefore he has slain them

in the wilderness.”

והמתה את העם הזה

כאיש אחד

ואמרו הגוים

אשר שמעו את שמעך לאמר

מבלתי יכלת יהוה

להביא את העם הזה

אל הארץ אשר נשבע להם

וישחטם במדבר:

From these two prayers

it is obvious that the scope

of the second sin is greater.

Part III: Judgments of HASHEM.

Punishment upon Israel.


A. Moses grinds the idol to dust,

and makes Israel drink it.

Exodus 32:20.

“And Moses took the callf

which they had made,

and burnt it in the fire,

and ground it to powder,

and spread it on the water,

and made the children of Israel drink of it.”

ויקח את העגל

אשר עשו

וישרוף באש

ויטחן עד אשר דק

ויזר על פני המים

וישק את בני ישראל:

B. Moses commands the Levites

to slay the transgressors.

Exodus 32:26-28.

“The Moses stood in the gate of the camp,

and said, Who is on the HASHEM’s side?

let him come to me.

And all the sons of Levi

gathered themselves together to him.

And he said to them,

Thus says the HASHEM G-d of Israel,

Put every man his sword by his side,

and go in and out

from gate to gate

throughout the camp,

and slay every man his brother,

and every man his companion,

and every man his neighbor.

And the children of Levi

did according to the word of Moses:

and there fell of the people that day

about three thousand men.”

ויעמוד משה בשער המחנה

ויאמר מי ליהוה אלי

ויאספו אליו כל בני לוי:

ויאמר להם כה אמר

יהוה אלהי ישראל

שימו איש חרבו על ירכו

עברו ושובו משער

לשער במחנה

והרגו איש את אחיו

ואיש את רעהו

ואיש את קרובו:

ויעשו בני לוי כדבר משה

ויפול מן העם ביום ההוא

כשלשת אלפי איש:

C. The Destruction of the

First Temple בית המקדש

in Jerusalem for IDOLATRY.

1. The Babylonian captivity

lasted for 70 years.

2. HASHEM allowed Israel

to return to the land of Israel

and to rebuild Jerusalem

and the Temple.



A. The entire generation that came out

of Egypt from twenty years old and upward,

except Joshua and Caleb,

died in the wilderness.

Numbers 14:28-35.

“Say to them,

As truly as I live, Says the LORD,

as you have spoken in my ears,

so will I do to you:

Your carcases shall fall

in this wilderness;

and all that were numbered of you,

according to your whole number,

from twenty years old and upward,

which have murmured against me,

Doubtless you shall not come

into the land,

concerning which I swore to

make you dwell therein,

save Caleb the son of Jephunneh,

and Joshua the son of Nun.

But your little ones,

who you said should be a prey,

I will bring them in,

and they shall know the land

which you have despised.

But as for you, your carcasses,

they shall fall in the wilderness.

And your children shall wander

in the wilderness forty years,

and bear your whoredoms,

until your carcases be wasted

in the wilderness.

After the number of the days

in which you searched the land,

even forty days,

each day for a year

shall you bear your iniquities,

even forty years,

and you shall know my breach of promise.

I the LORD have said,

I will surely do it

to all this evil congregation,

that are gathered together against me;

in this wilderness

they shall be consumed,

and there they shall die.”

אמר אלהם

חי אני נאם יהוה

אם לא כאשר דברתם באזני

כן אעשה לכם:

במדבר הזה יפלו פגריכם

וכלפקדיכם לכל מספרכם

מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה

אשר הלינתם עלי:

אם אתם תבאו אל הארץ

אשר נשאתי את ידי

לשכן אתכם בה

כי אם כלב בן יפנה

ויהושע בן נון:

וטפכם אשר אמרתם

לבז יהיה

והביאתי אתם

וידעו את הארץ

אשר מאסתם בה:

ופגריכם אתם יפלו במדבר הזה:

ובניכם יהיו רועים במדבר

ארבעים שנה

ונשאו את זנותיכם

עד תם פגריכם במדבר:

כמספר הימים אשר

תרתם את הארץ

ארבעים יום

יום לשנה יום לשנה

תשאו את עונתיכם

ארבעים שנה

וידעתם את תנואתי:

אני יהוה דברתי

אם לא זאת אעשה

לכל העדה הרעה הזאִת

הנועדים עלי

במדבר הזה יתמו

ושם ימתו:

This was the first Holocaust.

B. The destruction of the

Second Temple in Jerusalem



1. The punishment was scattering

among all the nations,

the Diaspora or the Golah הגולה ,

for almost 2000 years.

This is told by the prophets

in Psalm 106:24-27.

“Yes, they despised the pleasant land,

they believed not his word:

But murmured in their tents,

and listened not

to the voice of HASHEM.

Therefore he lifted up his hand

against them,

to overthrow them

in the wilderness:

to overthrow their seed also

among the nations,

and to scatter them in the lands.”

וימאסו בארץ חמדה

לא האמינו לדברו:

וירגנו באהליהם

לא שמעו בקול יהוה:

וישא ידו להם

להפיל אותם במדבר:

ולהפיל זרעם בגוים

ולזרותם בארצות:

The prophet Ezekiel יחזקאל

also testifies in

Ezekiel 20:15,23-24.

“Yet also I lifted up my hand

to them in the wilderness,

that I would not bring them

into the land which

I had given them,

flowing with milk and honey,

which is the glory of all lands;

I lifted up my hand to them

also in the wilderness,

that I would scatter them

among the heathen,

and disperse them

through the countries;

Because they had not

executed my judgments,

but had despised my statutes,

and had polluted my Sabbaths,

and their eyes were after

their fathers’ idols.”

וגם אני נשאתי ידי להם

במדבר לבלתי הביא אותם

אל הארץ אשר נתתי

זבת חלב ודבש

צבי היא לכל הארצות:

גם אני נשאתי את ידי להם

במדבר להפיץ אתם בגוים

ולזרות אותם בארצות:

יען משפטי לא עשו

וחקותי מאסו

ואת שבתותי חללו

ואחרי גלולי אבותם

היו עיניהם:

The magnitude of the judgments

imposed by HASHEM on the

second sin of Hatred without a Cause

and Unbelief is much greater,

and the judgments are much

more sweeping in scope than

the judgments that he imposed

upon the first sin of Idolatry.

Therefore the second sin of

Hatred without a Cause and Unbelief

is a much worse sin than the

first sin of Idolatry.