The Maharal explains that the reason Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov did not and could not have received the Torah is because they had no “nation”. They were individuals, and individuals pass on. The Torah is eternal and cannot fade into obscurity; it must therefore be given to a nation.

Chazal understand that after the Golden Calf, Moshe argued in defence of the Jews that אָנֹכִי הֹ’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ was only said to Moshe, in the second person singular, so technically, the Jews had not violated אָנֹכִי הֹ’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ by engaging in idol worship.

But if the Torah is given to a nation, not an individual, how could Moshe, claim he received it alone?

The answer lies in understanding Moshe’s role.

After departing Egypt and being saved at the Red Sea, the Torah emphasises what Yisro heard had happened, to “Moshe and his people”. Rashi deduces that the Torah implies that Moshe was equal to the whole nation.

Much later, in the final stages of the journey through the desert, Moshe sent emissaries to Edom, requesting permission for the Jews to pass through on their way to Canaan, which was declined. Throughout the episode, the Torah alternates between Moshe and the Jews as having sent them, from which Rashi deduces that the Torah illustrates that a national leader acts in the capacity as a proxy for the entire people.

The Maharal points out that these seem mutually exclusive. If Moshe was equal to the Jews, he achieved something greater than any other leader. How then, would his actions shed light on the authority of other leaders, that they act as agents of the people they represent?

R’ Yehoshua Hartman explains that Moshe being equal to the Jewish people isn’t necessarily literal. If he were to pray, it’s not as though that would count as their prayer too.

A leader is an agent or representative of his people. Moshe was more than that; the “equality” meant his actions carried the same weight as the nation itself. Regular activity, such as diplomacy like sending emissaries, is an act of any leader as a representative, and it is from this aspect that we can extrapolate from Moshe to other leaders.

Moshe was a microcosm of Yisrael. There were the 600,000 people at Sinai, plus Moshe. Whatever made them into Yisrael at Sinai, Moshe already was. He could claim that only he heard אָנֹכִי הֹ’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ because the qualities of Yisrael at Sinai that he represented were not guilty of the Golden Calf. This is the intent behind labelling him equal to the nation.

Moshe was the pinnacle of Yisrael and humanity. He represented all that was good in the people. The people he represented could not be the people who were guilty of the Golden Calf, and thus, the people arguably ought not to be held guilty at all.