Back to Parsha Homepage| Previous Issues
Parshas Ki Sisa
Flying Letters and Shattered Stone(Based on Rav Sholom Schwadron, zt"l, Lev Sholom v. II p. 347)
"And the tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved upon the tablets.… And it came to pass, as soon as he came near to the camp that he saw the calf, and the dancing; and Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands, and broke them beneath the mount. (Shmos 32:16,19)
First the Torah lavishly praises the luchos. Then the Torah continues to detail how they were broken. This doesn't seem to be the place to marvel at the virtues of the luchos, right before they were smashed to pieces. It should have been brought up earlier when they were first given to Moshe Rabbeinu: "And he gave to Moshe, upon finishing talking with him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of G-d" (31:18). Here would have been the appropriate place to continue and relate their divine nature. Why did the Torah wait until midway into the incident of the golden calf just as they are about to be shattered? Suddenly we pause and elucidate their virtues?
The answer is that we have to understand that just as miraculous was their makeup, so too their destruction was supernatural. This point was crucial for us to know in order to understand how they were broken. Therefore the Torah paused a moment and discussed the marvelous nature of the luchos and the writing on them - they were formed and written by G-d. This information gives us an introduction in understanding the manner and mode of how they were broken. Think about this a moment. You should have asked yourselves: How was Moshe capable of breaking the luchos? Were they made of duralex? Were they pieces of fragile ceramic? The luchos were made of a Heavenly material, they had descended from Heaven, they were utterly Divine! Just throwing them down on the ground isn't going to shatter a Heavenly substance. The writing was also of Divine nature. The gemara relates that the writing went straight through the tablets, and yet it could be read correctly from both sides - it wasn't backwards writing on the reverse side! Moreover, the letters ñ and í didn't fall out. Have you ever tried to make stenciled letters and keep them attached to the paper? The center of these two letters should have fallen out. We can't fathom the nature of this writing. They defied the laws of nature. And yet, suddenly, a simple natural phenomenon takes place: Moshe threw them down and they shattered into hundreds of pieces. How did that happen? What explosive did he use in order to smash a Divine creation? What marvelous hammer did Moshe Rabbeinu possess?
In order to understand all this, we have to refer to the Ramban on this possuk. He is bothered by a question. The luchos were so marvelous, so why didn't Moshe refrain from breaking them? He answers (based on Shmos Rabba 9:11) that the letters flew off as soon as he approached the golden calf; the surrounding area was permeated with tumah and sin.
Ah! We finally found the solution to our puzzle. Oh, certainly, that's simple. There is something that can shatter a Divinely made entity. There is a very powerful hammer which can smash to smithereens the handiwork of Hakadosh Baruch Hu! What is that? Tumah and sin! Tumah forced the letters to fly away, and sin shattered the luchos. A Divine creation can withstand the most powerful blows in the world. But as soon as it comes in contact with tumah and human sin it explodes into pieces.
If you think about it, this must have been an incredible sight. The letters flew off by themselves as soon as they came close to the tumah. Moshe didn't have to do anything. This is explicit in the Ramban's statement. Only after the letters flew off did Moshe throw down the luchos and break them. The lesson jumps out at us: there is no way in the world that the Holy can mix with the profane. It can't even tolerate being in close proximity! And if they meet, the kedusha immediately flies away and vanishes.
How foolish are those who go to schools where they come in contact with unholy people. They combine tainted subjects together with Torah. Torah is now explained through the tainted lenses of history and science. The Torah described the luchos as Divine and the handiwork of G-d, totally miraculous. And in spite of everything as soon as they came near tumah they flew away. How much more so the words of Torah studied in these defiled institutions together with tainted individuals and tainted subjects. Even the Torah which had been engraved on the hearts of those who study it, certainly will suddenly fly off without any warning.
Compromising holy values by mixing secular themes together with limudei kodesh is a terrible thing. But even just going to hear the "experts" of this academic system of compromise can bring no good results. Therefore, one should not even go to hear lectures from individuals who aren't truly yirei Hashem (G-d fearing).
Once two yeshiva bochurim had a burning desire to hear one of the famous lecturers of the day. However, his approach was not in the spirit of the Torah leaders. Still the bochurim felt they were able to distinguish between the good and the bad and could extract benefit from hearing him. However, their consciences bothered them and so they decided to go to the Leshem (Rav Shlomo Elyashiv, the grandfather of Rav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv, zt"l) to hear what he had to say. He heard them out and then answered, "My dear children, do you know how many long years it will take you to erase the impression engraved on your hearts from seeing and hearing this man? You shouldn't contemplate hearing even one word from him!"
The Sefer Torah ends with the following words, "… and all the strong hand, and all the great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel (Devorim 34:12)." Rashi comments, "and all the strong hand: [This refers to] his receiving the Torah on tablets with his hands. And all the great awe: [This refers to the] miracles and mighty deeds [that were performed for Israel] in the great and awesome wilderness. - [Sifrei 33:41] before the eyes of all Israel: [This expression alludes to the incident, where] His heart stirred him up to smash the tablets before their eyes, as it is said, "and I shattered them before your eyes" (Devorim 9:17). - [Sifrei 33:41]" This possuk is the final possuk in Torah. It is giving final tribute to Moshe Rabbeinu, summing up all his marvelous deeds and virtues. What is the culmination of his great career, the icing on the cake? He broke the luchos in front of the entire congregation of Klal Yisroel! So now we have to understand: what was so great about this that made it the climax?
Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Slobodka, explained thusly: this lesson, the breaking of the luchos, was the greatest lesson that Moshe Rabbeinu had ever taught the Jewish people. When they saw the holy tablets being shattered before their very eyes they gained a concrete awareness of what sin can cause. Sin can destroy even G-d's personal handicraft!
But now we are confronted by a new question. True, this is an awesome and frightening lesson. But what was the "strong hand" of Moshe Rabbeinu in this? The Torah is now discussing the marvelous virtues and might of Moshe Rabbeinu, not the lessons that he taught and instilled in Klal Yisroel. What is the connection of the "strong hand" of Moshe to the breaking of the luchos?
If we look at the possuk closely we see the answer. It says, "before the eyes of all Israel." That was the might of Moshe Rabbeinu, that he broke the luchos in front of everyone, the entire Jewish nation, and he wasn't afraid!
Superficially it seemed that really all the excitement about the golden calf and those who sought a new religion was merely because Moshe had delayed in returning. Really, however, they had evil intentions; they wanted to throw off the "yoke of Heaven." They spoke about the pain they suffered from Moshe's absence, as if they only wanted to find a substitute. But deep inside, they meant wicked mischief.
When Moshe Rabbeinu descended Mount Sinai, and everyone saw him holding the luchos, they should have immediately broken out in song! They should have all emotionally run towards him to greet him and leave the golden calf. Finally, their dear beloved leader, whom they had feared dead, had returned!! This didn't happen. The truth now came out. They weren't looking for a replacement for the man Moshe, they were looking for a replacement for Moshe's ideology! No one could stand up to them. Their hands were bloodied with the blood of Chur (Miriam's son) whom they murdered because he refused to listen to them. They would have killed Aharon if he didn't at least outwardly consent to them. And even Moshe Rabbeinu himself in his glory, when he became incensed at them and threw down the luchos, was now threatened with danger that he would be buried next to Chur!!
But Moshe didn't flinch. He broke the luchos "before the eyes of all Israel," even though he was taking his life into his own hands.
Everything else Moshe had done for the people was against the enemies of Klal Yisroel: against the Egyptians, against Sichon and Og, etc. Here, by the golden calf, Moshe had to stand up and show his full strength and courage against the entire Klal Yisroel themselves!
The courage he had previously used to fight the battles against Yisroel's enemies had to now be turned against the nation itself! He had been turned into a lone soldier against an entire nation (whom even though they hadn't all worshipped the calf, but they had remained silent, except for the tribe of Levi who afterwards joined the battle). But Moshe Rabbeinu wasn't afraid, and didn't cringe; he took the luchos and smashed them to pieces in front of everyone! This is the final praise that the Torah chose to finish the Sefer Torah, the summary of the essence of all the strengths of our great leader Moshe Rabbeinu. This is the greatest praise possible for the awesome act he carried out - "before the eyes of all Israel!"
Wishing Everyone A Gut Shabbos!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network