Ki Sisa: Between the First and Second Luchos

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Sisa, the Bnei Yisrael commit the egregious sin of the Eigel
the sin of the Golden Calf.  With Moshe absent for forty days and forty nights post Revelation at Sinai, the people panic as they miscalculate the moment of his return, and in the mayhem (and under Aharon’s well-intentioned guidance), a molten calf is fashioned.   Intoxicated with sin, the people wake up early in the morning to worship the golden calf (Shemos 32:6 w/ Rashi).  

When Moshe descends from Har Sinai with the Luchos ha’Eidus (the Tablets of Testimony) in his hands, he hears the sounds of the nation in their sin.  In response to the great travesty they have committed, the pasuk tells us: וַיִּחַראַף מֹשֶׁה, וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ מִיָּדָו אֶתהַלֻּחֹת, וַיְשַׁבֵּר אֹתָם, תַּחַת הָהָרand the wrath of Moshe flared, and he flung the tablets from his hands, shattering them at the foot of the mountain (32:19).  

After many tefillos on behalf of the nation, as well invoking the power of the Yud-Gimmel Middos Ha’Rachamim (13 Divine Attributes of Mercy), Hashem commands Moshe to carve a second set of Tablets, and ascend the mountain with this new set in hand.  פְּסָללְךָ שְׁנֵילֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים; וְכָתַבְתִּי עַלהַלֻּחֹת אֶתהַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ עַלהַלֻּחֹת הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר שִׁבַּרְתָּHew for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones. And I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke (34:1).  

The first set, brought down in the aftermath of the Golden Calf, was shattered and destroyed.  But the second set, carved by Moshe and inscribed by G-d, and brought down by Moshe on motzei Yom Kippur – when Hashem declared “Salachti ki’d’varecha – I have forgiven (the nation) like your word (as you, Moshe, requested)” was everlasting.  

The first ones were given amongst the throngs, and the second ones were given in intimate privacy between Hashem and Moshe.  From here Chazal derive a beautiful lesson and instruction as to how we should always strive to live our lives: הָרִאשׁוֹנוֹת עַיְ שֶׁהָיוּ בִתְשׁוּאוֹת וְקוֹלוֹת וּקְהִלּוֹת, שָׁלְטָה בָהֶן עַיִן רָעָהאֵין לְךָ יָפֶה מִן הַצְּנִיעוּתthe first (set of Luchos) were given amidst great noise and a large assembly, and so, the evil eye had power over them (and they were destroyed), but the second set, given in privacy and quiet endured; for there is no finer quality than modesty (Rashi to 34:3).  

The wise words of the Sages are words to live by, especially in the society in which we live, where modesty is virtually (pun intended) absent and intimate details of our lives are shared with all.

Another lesson derived from the distinction between the two sets of Tablets is taught by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, who writes that we must consider the differences between the two sets of Tablets received by Moshe on Sinai: the first set, destroyed as a result of the cheit ha’eigel, and the second set, mandated by G-d to take their place.

“The most obvious distinction is that the first set of tablets were both carved and inscribed by G-d while the second set were carved by Moshe at G-d’s command and then divinely inscribed on the summit of Mt. Sinai.

“A second, more subtle, yet fascinating distinction between the two sets emerges as part of Moshe’s recollections in the book of Devarim.  There Moshe states that accompanying the command to carve the second set of tablets and to ascend the mount with them in hand was an added Divine directive: פְּסָללְךָ שְׁנֵילוּחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים, וַעֲלֵה אֵלַי, הָהָרָה; וְעָשִׂיתָ לְּךָ, אֲרוֹן עֵץ, along with the stone tablets, Moshe was commanded ‘and make for yourself a wooden ark [in which to place the tablets].’  So important is this Ark, that Moshe cites it no fewer than four times within the span of five sentences (Devarim 10:1-5).

“Perhaps the message of the second tablets and the Ark into which they are placed is the message of context.  The Torah is valueless in a vacuum.  Its words are only significant when they find a ready home in the heart of man – only when those words are allowed to shape the actions of those who receive them.

“Moshe, descending the mount and witnessing the nation in sin, recognizes that the tablets and the law they represent have no context within which to exist.  The nation is simply unready to accept G-d’s word.  Were that word to be given to them in their present state, the Torah itself would become an aberration misunderstood and even misused.  Therefore, Moshe publicly destroys the luchos and then, at G-d’s command, begins the process of reeducating the people. 

“Central to the process of reeducation will be the symbolism of the second set of Tablets of Testimony, themselves.  G-d will inscribe upon them His decrees but, this time, only on stone carved by Moshe.  The tablets themselves will thus represent the word of G-d, finding a home in the actions of man.  These new tablets must also immediately be placed into a symbolic home, a simple Ark of wood.  Only if the contents of those tablets find their home, as well, in humble hearts of men – only if the Torah finds its context – will that Torah be worthy of existence” (Unlocking the Torah Text, Shemot, p.287-288).

Of his father-in-law, HaRav HaGaon Maran Sar HaTorah Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt’l, Rav Shraga Steinman recalls the following incident.  “A certain darshan in Bnei Brak was once trying to find the source of an idea but couldn’t trace its origin.  He was certain he had seen it in a Medrash, but when he presented his question to Rav Chaim, the gadol thought for a moment and then replied, ‘It’s not in the Medrash.  It’s in the Abarbanel’s commentary on the Haggadah, on the piyut of ‘Vayehi b’chatzi ha’laylah.’

‘Who in the world is capable of instantly remembering such obscure sources?’ Rav Steinman said in wonder” (Mishpacha, Issue 950, p.102). זכותו יגן עלינו.

The Torah’s infinite value and wisdom can only ennoble and enlighten us, guide our path and serve as a beacon in darkness, when we create a receptacle to hold the Torah.  Each person must fashion himself as the Ark where the luchos rested.  In this way, for each of us on our own level, we will merit an everlasting bond with the Torah that shapes our lives, in this world and the next.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 



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