“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “Go down, for your nation that you have brought up from Egypt, has sinned.” – Shemos 32:7
Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest human being who ever lived. The Rambam tells us that of all the prophets he alone was able to speak to Hashem directly. Normally, a prophet must go into an altered state of consciousness to experience Hashem. Otherwise the experience would cause sensory overload, and he would die. Moshe was able to speak to Hashem in a totally clear, conscious state of mind. At any time, he could approach Hashem and speak, experiencing Hashem as I do a neighbor or friend. Moshe was also granted access to the entire Torah, in all its depths and secrets.
Right after the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem told Moshe, “Go down.” Rashi explains this didn’t simply mean, “Go down to see what the nation is up to. Rather, Go down from your greatness. You have lost access to the upper worlds. The ability to enter the Beis Din of Heaven has been taken from you. I only gave you that access because of Klal Yisrael. They are no longer worthy, so you must go down.”
This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we take into account that Moshe was on a fantastic level because of his actions and ways. He spent his life dedicated to serving Hashem. Clearly, this access to the upper worlds and his ability to perceive and understand Torah were things he had earned. So why should they be taken from him?
The answer to this can be better understood by focusing on the relationship we have to one another.
Two Systems in the World to Come
Chovos HaLevovos explains that there are two systems of measurement in the World to Come, the internal and the external. The internal system is based on my personal growth: improving my character traits, increasing my awareness of Hashem, learning Torah, etc. The external system is based on merits outside of myself: how much I affected others and the influence that I had on people. These are accomplishments that don’t directly change my state of spirituality, but because I was the cause of them, they are credited to me.
As an example, Chovos HaLevovos describes two individuals. The first has sterling character traits, is steeped in Torah knowledge, and is so great that he can be compared to the angels above. The second individual is a plain person. He’s nowhere near as developed in his service to Hashem as the first man. Yet when they both come to the World to Come, the second individual will tower over the first.
Why? Because the first person brings with him his own merit while the second toiled to improve others. Therefore, he has his own merit plus the merits of all of those whom he helped.
A mashol to this would be looking at how people become wealthy. In 2001, Microsoft Corporation reported 40 billion dollars in excess cash. That means money that was not needed for operating expenses, research and development, or marketing – extra money. Bill Gates, as the largest single shareholder of the company, had become one of the richest men in the world with billions of dollars in discretionary income. It would take a successful lawyer, doctor, or account 10,000 years of hard work to earn that kind of wealth. The question is, how does a person acquire so much money?
The answer is that he cannot. No single man can ever earn that type of prosperity. The secret to building wealth is to have other people on your payroll. A successful dentist can drill, fill and bill, but he is only one man doing a job. Bill Gates had 20,000 workers in his employ. In a good market, with a good product and a team of thousands churning it out, your profits will be multiplied exponentially, and you can realize that which no single individual can even dream of.
This is how the Chovos HaLevavos explains these two individuals. The first person may have been great, but he was working for himself. He was a one-man operation. While he may have attained prominence, it was limited. The second man had many people in his employ. Because of him, many people grew closer to Hashem. And since their growth came about because of him, he is credited with it, so he is fantastically rich in merit.