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Thursday, 22 August, 2019 - 5:51 pm

 Sometimes we read a passage in the Torah at face value and we get a skewed view of what really happened.  One example is the story of the breaking of the Tablets, which is part of Moshe’s narrative in this weeks’ Parsha, Eikev, as he is repeating the Torah to the people before his death.  When I first learned this story as a young kid, I had this image of the great Moshe, coming down from the mountain all excited to bring the miraculous Tablets, made by Hashem and inscribed with the Ten Commandments, to the people.  He had been looking forward to this moment for 40 days, not eating or drinking, being completely absorbed in spirituality, learning Torah from Hashem and preparing to transmit it to the people. He walks down the mountain and is shocked to see the people dancing around a golden calf, and in an understandable fit of anger he smashes the Tablets!  As I got older and started understanding a little more about Moshe, the whole thing didn’t make sense. Anger is associated with arrogance. Moshe was the humblest person who ever lived. Perhaps shock and disappointment? But Hashem had already told Moshe before he descended from the mountain that the people had made golden calf. Was it A fit of rage?  “I’ll teach you a lesson?” That is something that the mind of a kid might relate to, but let’s stop for a moment and examine who Moshe was. Moshe was the most refined human being ever, described by the Torah as one to whom Hashem spoke “mouth to mouth.” When he was a young man, he had killed a murderous Egyptian taskmaster, and miraculously escaped Pharaoh’s attempt to execute him.  Later, he faced Pharaoh fearlessly when he returned as the redeemer, performing great miracles and destroying the entire Egyptian infrastructure. He then not only fought against great enemies including Amalek, Midyan, the mighty kings Sichon and Og, but had to deal with several rebellions among his own people. This is all in addition to bringing down the Torah from heaven and teaching it to the people, miraculously providing food and water for 40 years for all the people in the desert, and all the many other things that he did that defy human imagination.  And now just coming from the intense Divine revelation for 40 days on Mount Sinai, somehow for him to smash this great gift from Hashem in a fit of anger just doesn’t work. So we have two choices: Either stick to our narrative and think that Moshe was not as perfect as the Torah describes, or take a more humble approach and realize that there is more to this story than we first understood. In fact, as always, if we look at the Oral Torah and its interpretation, handed down through all the generations, we realize that the story is really very different.  

This is based on Midrash, Talmud, Halacha, Kabbalah and Chassidus, as well as on the Biblical verses themselves.  The Torah tells us that Hashem told Moshe to hew two tablets to replace the ones “that you broke.” The Hebrew word for “that you broke” is “sheshibarta,” but the Torah uses two words: “asher shibarta.”  While that is still correct, the Torah does not use a single letter superfluously. What is the lesson of the extra word “asher?” The final Rashi in the Torah teaches that “asher”, meaning “happy” or “fortunate,” teaches us that Hashem thanked Moshe for breaking the Tablet, agreeing that is was the right thing to do.  What does this mean? 

Moshe was the greatest leader we have ever had.  He is known as the “shepherd of Israel.” Moshe was holy from birth.  The Torah tells us that when he was born the room was filled with light.  He had many great qualities, including leadership qualities. But what clinched his choice as the leader to redeem the Jews and to start us off as a nation was the story where a sheep ran away from his flock, and he found it at a water hole. Instead of getting angry, he said that had he known the sheep was so thirsty, he would have carried it therewith his own hands.  Moshe cared more for his people than himself, to the extent that he was willing to sacrifice anything for them, including his place in the Torah and our history. Even for those who had strayed so far as to worship an idol 40 days after they had heard directly from Hashem not to have any other gods. Moshe cared deeply for every single one of his people, and wanted to bring them to Teshuva and forgiveness.

The day the Torah was given to us is compared to a wedding, the metaphorical marriage of Hashem and the Jewish people.  There are many ways in which this metaphor is expressed. A marriage is not complete until the marriage contract is delivered, and the Tablet were the “marriage contract.”  When Moshe saw that the Jews had been “unfaithful” to their “husband,” he was afraid that they would be completely rejected and “divorced” by Hashem. He therefore broke the Tablets, so that the marriage would not be complete, giving people the time to show that they were really essentially faithful to Hashem, and it was, as the Torah says the “mixed multitude” of Egyptians who were the ones who had turned the calf into a deity.  Hashem forgave the people, and the Tablets were rewritten and delivered to the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. As always, this is just a tiny taste of all the commentary and discussion that has been written on this subject.

Here we see the greatness of Moshe’s leadership.  In defense of his people, he broke the most precious thing in the world, Tablets made by G-d Himself and inscribed with words that held onto the Tablets miraculously, as the Talmud describes, in order to protect those who had gone against everything that he had taught them.  And here is another example of how shallow the reading of the written Torah is without the Oral Tradition.

The Talmud says that as the nights begin to get longer toward the end of summer, it is especially important to increase our Torah learning, since the optimum time to study Torah is at night.  This exhortation comes with a blessing – one who increases Torah learning at this time adds days to his life. May I suggest that you take some time every evening studying the Parsha with Rashi, thereby getting a much richer understanding of, and appreciation for, what the Torah teaches.  And, perhaps, join my Thursday night class where we discuss the Torah in this way.

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