5763 - #20
A PERFECT PLAN
Ha'Egal, the Sin of the Golden Calf, arises as a disjointed disturbance
from the body of the Torah text. Israel is so close to physically receiving the
Luchot HaBrit, the Tablets of the Covenant, and concluding the
miraculous and spiritual experience of Sinai when they sin and almost destroy
their chance of any connection with God. From the very heights of the Jewish
experience -- Torah -- to the very depths of any human action – sin – with no
apparent homogeneous flow. From one extreme to the next followed by the quiet
and somewhat anticlimactic receiving of the second Luchot. Three very
different stories in our history. But this is not necessarily so.
In Midrash Rabbah 46:7 we are told about the goodness of Moshe during
the hundred and twenty days of receiving the Torah. The entire episode, from
Moshe’s first journey up Har Sinai to the receiving of the second Luchot,
is considered, in the midrash, as one event. This is further supported
by T.B. Baba Kamma 55a: "Why in the first Decalogue is there no
mention of well-being [tov] whereas in the second there is a mention of
well-being?… Because the (first tablets containing the) commandments were
destined to be broken. How should this affect (the mention of well being)? – R.
Ashi thereupon said: God forbid! Well-being would then have ceased in
Israel."1 It appears from these sources that God planned Kabbalat
haTorah to incorporate both Luchot and all that came between them.
What is puzzling about this is that the necessity of the second Luchot
seem to have come from human choice. They seem to have come from Moshe’s
decision to break the first Luchot,2 which was a result
of the people’s decision to sin. How therefore could the entire 120 days be
grouped together as one event? How is the destiny of the Luchot so
dependent on and tightly tied to the people of Israel? In the same way the
People of Israel are dependent on and tied so tightly to the Luchot.
Neither the Luchot’s destiny or Israel’s destiny can be properly
fulfilled without the other; no matter what greatness one of them might have on
their own, it is the union of the two that produces either of their goals. The
people sinned against the Luchot but equally they sinned because of the Luchot.
This is not to excuse Israel or to shift the blame but let us take into account
that the motivation for sin can just as easily come from the same
place the motivation for good comes from: a
feeling of lack and the attempt to fill what ever recess is crying out to us.
Could it be that the first Luchot did not satisfy some integral need of
the Jewish people that the second did?
This idea is disturbing. The first Luchot "were the work of God and the
writing was the writing of God,"3 while the second
were written by Moshe. It is surely not in holiness that the second surpassed
the first. Yet, Midrash Rabbah 45:46 seems to imply that they do, at
least, in another way. In this midrash, Moshe tells God he is sorry for
breaking the first Luchot and God responds: Do not be sorry, for the
first Luchot had only the Ten Commandments while the second Luchot
also include the Torah She'b'al Peh, the Oral Law.
There is a certain imperfection in the Torah She'b'al Peh, as there is
in the second Luchot, as there is in human beings. It is the combination
that must be analyzed. In the original partnership, the perfect first Luchot
and the imperfect Israel, what could possibly have been produced; all greatness
was handed to the people with no need for them to extend any effort and also no
way for them to achieve any greatness of their own. With the second Luchot,
with the matching of imperfection with imperfection, the people were given the
tenets they could not achieve on their own and also the motivation to strive
towards that which they could achieve.
The Maharsha commentating on T.B. Baba Kamma 55a compares the first Luchot
to the reward one will get in this world for honouring one's parents and the
second Luchot to the reward one will get in Olam Habah for
fulfilling the fifth commandment. The work of God is made mortal while the work
of man is rendered immortal? In fact, is the opposite not true? Immortality is
not the worry of God; it is His essence. That which comes down to us perfectly
from Heaven cannot help us with our struggle to Heaven. It illuminates so
strongly our weaknesses, makes so small our capabilities; whatever we may
create will only crumble with our mortality. It is only through the use of
equally mortal means, through the exhausting tasks of equally mortal beings,
that we may ever truly accomplish any action of worth. The Torah She'b'al
Peh allows us to discover truth on our own.4 It is exactly what the
second Luchot are lacking that in fact allows us to gain more from them.
If this is indeed the case, the second Luchot were not merely God giving
us a second chance but the conclusion God was originally planning. Then,
however, the first Luchot would seem to become superfluous, but this is
also not possible. As stated above, both Luchot incorporated one
experience. Obviously both were needed. The first Luchot were destined
to break. They were not made for this world5 but this world had
to know that they existed. We had to know what perfection was, not in its
details but as a whole.
Nechama Leibowitz6 writes: "Miracles however
awe-inspiring cannot change human nature. They can only momentarily shake the
human soul out of its every day concepts, but they cannot in themselves effect
a lasting transformation… Only a prolonged disciplining in the precepts of the
Torah directing every moment of (one’s) existence could accomplish that. the
all embracing character of the Torah’s observances regulating the individual’s
relations with himself, family and society constitute the surest guarantee
against moral relapses."
So why is the miracle necessary. Because it is the miracle that keeps us
dedicated, it is the miracle that makes us yearn for what we may discover and
it is the miracle that reminds us of what we will never discover. But we are
human beings and it is within this realm we must live and within this realm
that we may flourish
1 Translation from the
2 T.B. Shabbat 87a.
3 Shemot 22:16.
4 See, also, Rabbi
Benjamin Hecht, The Cloud of Revelation, Introspection 5763-1.
Chiddushei Aggadot, Baba Kamma 55a.
Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot, Ki Tissa 2.
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