The most infamous episode in Parshas Ki Sisa is the Eigel HaZahav, the Golden Calf. When Moshe descended from the mountain to investigate the calamity Hashem had informed him was occurring, Yehoshua met him on the way and said, “There is a sound of battle in the camp!”
To which Moshe responded, “This isn’t a sound of military strength and it’s not the sound of weakness, it is a sound of distress that I hear.”
What is this conversation really about? Rabbi Myer Schwab of Bais Yaakov Denver explained that of course Yehoshua heard the sounds accurately and he knew there wasn’t an actual battle being fought. Yehoshua knew he was hearing people who had lost control of themselves - a spiritual battle rather than a military one. But Moshe Rabeinu didn't accept his statement. Moshe probed further to teach that a leader can’t just hear the facts, they need to think further to the reasons why there are battle sounds. Why did they lose control?
The Ramban brings a Medrash that elaborates on the deeper dialogue between Moshe and Yehoshua. Moshe said, “A person who is going to be a leader of the Jewish people has to be able to differentiate between sounds”, not just the actual sounds, because of course Yehoshua could hear the sounds accurately, but the motivations that led to those sounds. Moshe was asking why there were sounds of a drunken brawl in the camp. Perhaps the people abandoned Hashem for no reason, but maybe they were in pain. Maybe they were worried they lost their leader and became depressed, which may have led them to do crazy things. Moshe’s message to Yehoshua was if you want to be a leader, you have to look to understand why people do wrong things in order to help bring them back.
As mothers, we too have this responsibility to not only see misbehavior but to wonder why. What led to this? Particularly as we move from the sugar highs and crashes of Purim into the busyness of preparing for Pesach, this is a good time to remind ourselves to search for the why behind behavior. When we understand the underlying stressors and challenges that led to misbehavior, we aren’t condoning it. We’re not saying, “since you had such a late night and too much sugar on Purim it’s okay that you are chutzpadik today”. No. But we can understand that late nights and lots of sugar make it hard for a person to control themselves, and it is normal for a child to act up in that situation then we can help them recover equanimity with healthy food, getting back into a schedule, and even as we disapprove of the behavior, we can express understanding that it is normal to find this period difficult and we will all get through it.
Moshe Rabeinu doesn’t give the Jews a free pass for Cheit HaEgel since he understood the challenges that led to it. Not at all. We still suffer for those actions today. But his message to Yehoshua is one that we all need to internalize. As mothers, as leaders of our families, it is our responsibility not only to react to problems, but to make sure we are asking ourselves “Why?”, “What is behind this?’, “What led to this point?".