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Parshat Ki Tisa: The Luchot - Compiled by Adena Muskin

Adena Muskin

Special thanks to those who contributed to this week's Dvar Torah, including: Audrey Canter, Tzippora Leah Shapiro and Anonymous.

This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated in loving memory of Miriam bat Tova.

There are two pesukim which interrupt the action of the Cheit Ha'Egel (the Sin of the Golden Calf). These pesukim intervene between the scene in the Heavens wherein Hashem's initial reaction to the sin and Moshe's original defense of Bnei Yisrael is described and the happenings in the machane itself following Moshe's descent form Har Sinai most notably the shattered luchot. Pesukim 32:15-16 describe in detail the Luchot Habrit.

15 "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand; tablets that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. 16 And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets."

Many meforshim are puzzled at the unlikely location of these pesukim. They seem to belong a perek earlier, following the pasuk in 31:18where the Torah describes the bestowal of the luchot to Moshe.

"18 And He gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of speaking with him upon Mt. Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God."

Why are the pesukim mentioned here, right in the middle of all the action?

Ramban answers that the description of the luchot is written here to stress the greatness and sacredness of the luchot, but that this did not dissuade Moshe from breaking them upon seeing the Egel Hazahav (the Golden Calf). Musaf Rashi quotes Chazal in Mesechet Shabbat where they teach that Moshe did not consult Hashem before breaking the luchot, but Hashem agreed to his action completely.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch suggests that the description of the luchot is placed specifically at this juncture because the root of the sin was the Jewish People's failure to grasp one of the fundamental tenants of Judaism. Our relationship with Hashem is not based upon an intermediary, as Bnei Yisrael believed. They couldn't fathom a religion with no intermediary, especially after observing the Egyptians with their numerous intermediaries for so long. Thus, when Moshe was delayed and Bnei Yisrael believed him to be dead, they rushed to create a new medium through which they would be able to connect to God. This explains the Torah's depiction of the luchot as writing which not only penetrated but was also legible on both sides. Had the luchot only been written and legible on one side, the person responsible for reading the dibrot aloud to the people would be the only active participant, dictating to the people, the passive listeners. Were this the case, Moshe would have continued to act as an intermediary between the Jewish People and Hashem in the eyes of the people. However, since the commandments written upon the luchot with the finger of God on both sides, it was intended equally for the leader Moshe and Bnei Yisrael. Hence, the Torah addressed the people on an individual basis. In this state, Moshe could not be an intermediary he became one of the people. The lesson behind the miracle concerning the actual engraving upon the luchot was, in fact, the very thing in which Bnei Yisrael had erred. The Torah was presented directly to Am Yisrael from Hashem, without the need of an intermediary.

Nechama Leibowitz asserts that the Torah purposely detailed the extraordinary luchot minutes before telling us of their tragic end. The Torah describes the uniqueness of the luchot, highlighting the work Hashem put into it as a gift to his Chosen People, to help us understand the enormity of their loss.

Another possible solution is that the Torah wished to justify Moshe's seemingly harsh reaction to break the luchot. After all, even before Moshe descended the mountain, Hashem had told him of Bnei Yisrael's sin and Moshe had begun to plead with Hashem. He had even gained partial forgiveness for the nation. One might think that Moshe's reaction to break the luchot a sacred, God-given and created object was more disrespectful than Bnei Yisrael's sin. However, these pesukim which describe the luchot show that Hashem made them specifically for Bnei Yisrael, His Chosen People a nation who was loyal only and always to Him. As we see in the beginning of the perek, Hashem's initial reaction to Cheit Ha'Egel (the sin of the Golden Calf) is anger that Bnei Yisrael could act in such a misleading way. They were obviously not the nation to whom He truly wanted to give the luchot. This is especially apparent when Hashem declares His initial wish to destroy Bnei Yisrael in the beginning of the perek. The Ohr HaChaim says that Moshe did not break the luchot until Hashem instructed him to do so. Perhaps this was when Moshe understood that he was to break the luchot before the eyes of the people to teach them that they do not deserve this immense gift.

Lastly, Sforno claims that Moshe broke the luchot upon seeing how happy Bnei Yisrael were with the Egel HaZahav (the Golden Calf). Perhaps the luchot are described here to further incriminate Bnei Yisrael. They should have been ecstatic to receive the God-given and God-created luchot habrit. Instead, they were perfectly content with their man-made golden idol.


Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Ki Tisa