Parshat Ki Tisa recounts the Jews’ creation of the Golden Calf, one of the worst sins we’ve ever committed, as well as Moshe’s negotiations with G-d in seeking atonement. The Torah describes G-d’s complaints to Moshe in 4 Pessukim (32:7-10), and then Moshe’s response in three Pessukim (32:11-13), which proved effective. Moshe’s response to G-d started with “why are you angry at your nation?” (32:11). Didn’t Moshe know why G-d was angry? How was this an effective defense?
Rabbi David Fohrman explains that there are two elements to Moshe’s response that were effective. The first is the word he used for “why” is “Le-ma” (literally means “for what purpose”), which is a forward-looking question. Rather than using the alternate term “madua”, which is more focused on the past. Moshe also made a subtle adjustment to G-d’s complaint. While G-d initially said “go down because your nation acted corruptly”, Moshe’s response was “why are you angry at your nation?” Same word, but Moshe shifts the ownership. Moshe understood that getting over something upsetting requires taking ownership of what’s yours, and requires looking ahead. Once focus is on the future, moving past difficult situations becomes possible, and may even end up strengthening relationships, as this incident did for those that survived it. When we focus on our future rather than the past, we give ourselves a chance to live the life we choose.