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Parshat Ki Tisa - Moshe and the Luchot

By: Guests
Audrey Canter (SFW '08)

In this week's parsha, Ki Tisa, we find Bnei Yisrael on the highest level of spirituality.  They stood at Har Sinai, said 'Na'aseh VeNishmah', and are now preparing to receive the Luchot.  In fact, we learn that had Bnei Yisrael not committed the sin of the Eigel, the goal of creation would have been achieved and there would have been no more death or temptation by the Yetzer Hara. The world would have reverted back to the perfection that existed at the beginning of creation, before Adam and Chava sinned.

 

However, we find that through a tragic miscalculation of the date of Moshe's return, Bnei Yisrael fall prey to the Satan.  As Rashi explains, the Satan took advantage of this opportunity.  He created an illusion of darkness and chaos and showed them an image of a dead Moshe being carried in Heaven.  Believing Moshe to be dead, Bnei Yisrael attempted to replace Moshe, the medium between themselves and Hashem, with the eigel.  What Bnei Yisrael did not understand is that an intermediary is not necessary when it comes to a relationship with Hashem. 

 

It is important to note then, that the original intention behind the eigel was not that of idolatry.  It did however begin a downward spiral that ultimately led to one of the most catastrophic events in our history.  As Moshe was accepting the Luchot from Hashem on Har Sinai, preparing to give them over to the people, Hashem commanded him,, "Go, descend- for your people that you brought up from the land of Egypt has become corrupt…now, desist from Me.  Let My anger flare up against them and I shall annihilate them, and I shall make you a great nation." (Shemot 32: 7-10)  It is disputed among the mefarshim whether Moshe first pleaded with Hashem not to destroy Bnei Yisrael (this is the order presented in the pesukim), or if he first descended the mountain to destroy the eigel (after all, how could he pray for Hashem to forgive Bnei Yisrael with the eigel still there?).  According to Ramban, Moshe realized that Bnei Yisrael was on the brink of being obliterated and he therefore interceded immediately on their behalf.  Only once Hashem agreed not to destroy them did Moshe then descend from the mountain with the Luchot in his hands. 

 

The Torah then states "It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the eigel and the dances, that Moshe's anger flared up.  He threw down the Luchot from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain."  There are two very important questions that can be asked about these pesukim.  Firstly, why did Moshe smash the Luchot only after seeing the people dancing around the eigel?  And secondly, why would Moshe destroy the Luchot, created by Hashem Himself, seemingly without any permission at all? Clearly, considering Moshe's great stature, it could not have been that he just threw them down in a moment of rage. But then how was he justified in his actions?

 

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky answers our first question: When Moshe first heard that the Jews had made themselves an eigel, he tried to give them the benefit of the doubt.  They were stranded in the midbar, terrified for their survival.  He rationalized that they made the eigel out of desperation and probably wished that they hadn't been forced to do so.  However, once Moshe saw them dancing around the eigel, he realized that he had been very wrong.  They were not reluctant about the eigel at all. In fact they were enjoying it!  Moshe then knew that there could be no justification for what Bnei Yisrael had done and that they no longer deserved the Luchot.

 

This still leaves our second question unanswered: how could Moshe take it into his own hands whether he could smash the Luchot?  There are different reasons offered explaining his decision, including one that claims that Hashem did command him directly to smash them.  But the explanation I'd like to focus on is one that I believe not only beautifully explains what took place, but also provides great insight into our own lives.

One can imagine that given the size and weight of the Luchot, Moshe was only able to carry them through a miracle.  In fact, it was the spirituality of the letters that lightened the weight of the Luchot and enabled Moshe to lift them.  The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni, 393 says that when Moshe came into sight of the eigel, the letters on the Luchot flew away.  The Luchot without the kedusha of the letters became unbearably heavy, a sign to Moshe that they should be broken. 

 

This explanation reminds us of something very important.  Unfortunately, we often think of Torah and mitzvot as something that bogs us down, that keeps us from doing the things which we really want to do.  We view the commandments as burdens, when it reality they are that what sustain us, what lift us up and give us meaning.  We cling to physicality, to materialism but really these are the things which weigh us down and, ultimately, lead to our destruction.  Without kedusha, our lives are comparable to the unbearably heavy stone; stone that no person can support for long; stone that will come crashing down.  We must make sure that we have the right attitude when it comes to performing mitzvot and doing chesed.  We should not see it as something that we have to fit into our busy schedule, rather, it should be what our lives revolve around.  Everything we do should come from a place of Torah, from a place of wanting to get close to Hashem. It is with this kind of attitude that we will be zocheh to bring the Meshiach and with him, bring the world back to the state of perfection that we almost attained with the first Luchot.

 

 

Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Ki Tisa