Ki Sisa might actually be the one parsha where I might welcome the “educational misimpressions” I have referred to in other posts, where I might have simply accepted that Bnei Yisrael actually worshiped the Egel, and that both the tshuva and the punishment were commensurate with the sin. Yet, like everything else, it’s obviously never that simple.
Whether it’s Rav Dessler explaining that it might simply have been a question of timing, as the nachash nechoshes of parshas chukkas served as a Divinely commanded analog of what the egel might have been had it originated from On High [a major distinction, to be sure]. Or, one could take it as far as Rav Isaac Sher, who goes as far as to say that even the construction of the egel was not in and of itself a sin.
So—if such a miniscule amount of people were actually out-and-out guilty [0.5% percent of the eligible 603,550; none of the women, children, or Leviim were involved at all]—why the draconian Divine response? Why even the threat of kelaya? It starts to make sense that Ki Sisa and Parah follow immediately after Purim, the holiday where we celebrate the cancellation of such a gezera.
It all has to do with relationships. Among the assorted mixed metaphors attached to Matan Torah is, of course, the chuppah metaphor [one of which are the inability of a me-anes to ever divorce, and kfiah har ke-gigis being the ultimate “ones”…but that’s another discussion]. Consider that Matan Torah was the beginning of a very close relationship…and that any insult to that relationship, however theoretically slight, could damage it even if said insult was only one of perception [which could be exemplified by the various range of explanantions and/or “whitewashes” of the chet ha-egel, especially ones that deny that there was any “real” chet.]
To draw another analogy—and to further mix the metaphor—one can compare the beginning of a relationship to the onset of a pregnancy, when the smallest insult to the developing embryo can result in the termination of the pregnancy. Vis-à-vis relationships, anything one party does or says—even if not technically “wrong”—can but an end to the relationship. Something like that seems to be about to happen here, until Moshe’s extraordinary intervention.
And to even further confuse the picture, one can draw a thru-line of sorts that actually connects all of the arba parshiyot: shekalim in the beginning; zachor/Purim as a function of kimu v’kiblu and the actual giving of the Torah [31:18]; Parah as the chet ha-egel and its immediate aftermanth; and, finally, Chodesh as the renewal, the second giving of the luchos.
However, this is usually not the advised course of action with regard to forging a relationship. To employ yet another analogy [groan], it is advised that one not turn off ones computer and reboot if not necessary because of the damage it can do to the OS and hard drive. What we might have in the case of the egel was an unnecessary reboot.