5763 - #20


Ki Teitzei


The Chet 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

Tikva Hecht


1 Translation from the Soncino edition.

2 T.B. Shabbat 87a.

3 Shemot 22:16.

4 See, also, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, The Cloud of Revelation, Introspection 5763-1.

5 Maharal, Chiddushei Aggadot, Baba Kamma 55a.

6 Nechama Leibowitz, New Studies in Shemot, Ki Tissa 2.



Nishma 2003


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