When the Jewish people built the Golden Calf Moshe was on Mt. Sinai. Hashem notifies Moshe of the transgression of the Israelites and tells him to go down from the mountain to the people. He tells Moshe that He will destroy the Bnei Yisrael. Moshe’s immediate reaction is to start praying that Hashem should forgive them. וַיְחַל מֹשֶׁה “And Moshe pleaded before Hashem…”. (Ex. 32,11)
The great commentator on the Torah, Ibn Ezra, states that Moshe did not pray at this particular time. He first went down to the people, destroyed the Golden Calf, and punished the perpetrators of the crime and only then went up again to plead before Hashem on behalf of the Jewish people. What was Ibn Ezra’s reason for this opinion?
My teacher Rabbi Soloveitchik offers an answer to this question. Moshe could not pray for forgiveness while the Golden Calf still existed. How could Hashem forgive the people while they are in the midst of transgressing? He had to correct the situation and then ask for forgiveness.
Hence Moshe went down from the mountain, destroyed the Golden Calf and punished the perpetrators of the crime. Only then did he ascend the mountain again and asked Hashem to forgive the Jewish people.
If we hurt someone’s feelings or mistreat a friend, we cannot expect to be forgiven until we correct the situation we created. Only then can we expect to be pardoned.