Five Questions
In his absence, the Jewish nation feared that Moses was no longer going to return to lead them to the Promised Land. A group of rebels demand of Aaron to help them construct a Golden Calf to replace Moses. This soon degenerated into outright idol worship.
G‑d apprised Moses of what was going on as he was still on Mount Sinai and expressed His outrage to Moses and threatened to destroy the Jewish nation. Moses entreated G‑d for them. G‑d accepted his pleas and spared the Jewish nation.
When the Torah describes G‑d’s anger at the people and His desire to destroy them the Torah states the following:
G‑d said to Moses, “Now, desist from Me. Let My anger flare up against them, and I shall annihilate them; and I shall make you a great nation.’”
Several questions have been raised by the classical commentators:
First, these words are unmistakably harsh. Yet, the Midrash points out that the word “Vayomer-and He said” implies that G‑d was using a rather soft tone in His threat to annihilate them. How can we reconcile the threat of annihilation with the soft expression of Vayomer?
Second, G‑d obviously knew that Moses would plead for them and He would grant the people a reprieve. If G‑d said He would destroy them, how could an omnipotent G‑d go back and not fulfill His own pledge?
Third, the words “desist from me” are problematic because Moses had not yet started to pray for the people. Why is G‑d then telling him to desist? Desist from what?
Fourth, why does G‑d speak in the future tense when He says, “let My anger flare up against them.”? Hasn’t His anger already flared up?
Fifth, at the beginning of this chapter G‑d tells Moses to descend. Rashi explains that G‑d was not just directing Moses to climb down the mountain but that he was actually demoting him because of the diminished status of the Jews. How does that reconcile with G‑d now promising Moses to be a leader of a great nation?
A Novel Translation
There is one answer to all of these questions based on a novel translation and interpretation of this verse by Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz, a leading Chassidic Master and disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov. In his novel translation, G‑d was surprisingly actually expressing to Moses something rather positive and endearing about/to the Jewish people.
The words “hanicha li,-desist from Me,” can also be rendered “let Me derive satisfaction (nachas) [from them].”
The words, “Let My anger flare up against them,” Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz renders as: “Let them feel distressed at what they did to get Me angry.”
The words, “and I shall annihilate them” Rabbi Pinchas concludes can be translated as: “and I will have a burning and consuming love for them.”
Bringing Nachas to G‑d
One may add that the first words, “now” can also be explained in this mode. The Midrash states that whenever the Torah uses the word “now” it is an expression of Teshuvah (repentance, or return). G‑d is thus saying that when they do Teshuvah, instead of arousing My wrath, I will then derive much satisfaction from them.
This translation is consistent with the statement in the Talmud that the Jewish people were actually incapable of stooping so low to worship an idol just 40 days after the heard directly from G‑d, “do not have other g-ds.” This event was “orchestrated” by G‑d to teach us the power of Teshuvah. Even when we, as a nation, degenerate to the nadir of depravity we can do Teshuvah and bounce back.
According to the novel interpretation of Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz this idea is embedded in the very same verse which describes G‑d’s wrath and His threat to annihilate them. G‑d never intended to annihilate them, but rather to get them to do Teshuvah so that they can be transformed into a nation that brings great satisfaction to G‑d.
We can now understand the continuation of the verse in which G‑d promises he will make Moses into a great nation, although the Torah intimated just a few verses earlier that Moses had become diminished because of his people’s degraded status, and now G‑d is promising him greatness!
In light of Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz’ explanation we could understand how Moses would be promoted notwithstanding the degradation of the people. Their Teshuvah would lead them to an even higher plane and that would accrue to Moses. The degeneration of the Jewish people who worshipped the Golden Calf affected Moses adversely; so too would their Teshuvah impact him in a positive way.  
The “Now” of Teshuvah
Upon closer analysis of this novel approach to this verse we can discern three aspects and stages of Teshuvah:
The first stage is the resolve not to transgress in the future. This implies that we are returning to the right path, which is the true definition of the word Teshuvah. This level is hinted in the word “now.” As stated earlier, this expression alludes to Teshuvah because Teshuvah can happen now, on a dime. The only part of Teshuvah that can really happen in one instant is the resolve for the future.
This premise is based on a Talmudic law concerning the efficacy of a marriage of a criminal who stipulates to his bride, “I am marrying you on the condition that I am a perfectly righteous person.” The Talmud states that we must consider this marriage valid although we know that he was a criminal up to this point because “he may have harbored a thought of Teshuvah in his heart.” In that one instant he could have resolved to not commit his crimes in the future. Although he had not dealt with the past to express sincere remorse, he had not confessed his sins and asked for forgiveness (some of the extended requirements of Teshuvah), nevertheless the basic requirement of Teshuvah can take place in one instant of one expressing resolve not to repeat the crime.
When a Jew makes that step to resolve to do better in the future, G‑d derives great pleasure. This is expressed in Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz’ translation which speaks of bringing nachas-pleasure, satisfaction to G‑d.
Remorse for the Past
However, to ensure that the resolve will last, one must also express remorse for the past iniquity. This is alluded to in with the next section of this verse according to its novel translation: “Let them feel distressed at what they did to get Me angry.” When a Jew reflects on how he upset and angered G‑d, he feels embarrassed and regrets having transgressed in the past.
After one begins his journey back to G‑d one then turns his or her attention to correcting the past. In this mode one recognizes the damage he or she has done and is truly remorseful for it. This will help to maintain one’s resolve for the future.
Teshuvah of Love
The next level, the ultimate level of Teshuvah, is where one’s iniquitous past inspires intense passion to get closer to G‑d.
This Teshuvah of love is alluded to in the concluding words of the verse according to Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz’ novel interpretation: “I will have a burning and consuming love for them.” What prompts G‑d’s love for us? It is a reciprocal response to the love and passion we show to Him in our Teshuvah.
Indeed, we may offer a slightly different translation to these words. Instead of, “I will have a burning and consuming love for them,” it allows for an alternate, but related, translation, “I will instill a burning and consuming love in them.”
Three Stages of Teshuvah Paralleling Three Stages of Redemption
Our Sages teach us, “When Israel does Teshuvah they will immediately be redeemed.” This suggests that Redemption is connected to and parallels the process of Teshuvah. Thus, the three aspects or stages of Teshuvah can also be found in the process of Redemption:
The first stage of Teshuvah is the resolve for the future regardless of our past. This resolve can happen in one instant; “now!” Similarly, the Redemption can and will take place in one instant, although the ground work for it has been going on for thousands of years since the creation of the world. This aspect of Redemption requires, on our part, a desire to go forward into the future without focusing inordinately on the past. Geulah is all about bringing the future into the present. This is dramatically expressed in the refrain to the popular song, “We want Moshiach now!”
Once we thrust ourselves into the future and we are safely ensconced in a world of peace and holiness, we will then be able to focus on how the past period of exile was so painful and destructive. To dwell on the negative and wallow in the sorrow of exile now will only depress us and keep our minds and hearts in an exile mode. Only after we extricate ourselves from the tragic past and of the exile mentality that it spawned can we safely view the exile in all of its horrific form.
This is then followed by a third stage where the view of exile in hindsight will lead us to the recognition that exile contained very powerful energies that elicited hidden soul-powers. Indeed, as the Rebbe pointed out on many occasions, Geulah-Redemption and Gola-exile are not really opposites. Geulah is actually revealing the hidden G‑dly dynamic of Golah. Geulah is formed by inserting the letter aleph into the world Golah.
In this final stage we will be able to understand why all the suffering of exile occurred and how it has brought us to the ultimate stage of Divine revelation. Just like the memory of our past sins will ignite a burning passion to get closer to G‑d, so too, we will ultimately appreciate how exile was a powerful positive force to bring about the Geulah.