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"And it came to pass as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dances, that Moshe's anger flared up and he threw down the Tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain" (Shemos 32:19).
The Sages taught (Shabbos 87a) that Hashem agreed with Moshe and told him "Yasher koach" ("more power to you") for breaking the Tablets.
At the end of the Torah, when Moshe dies, there are three verses eulogizing this greatest of prophets. "Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Hashem had known face to face. As evidenced by all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Par'oh and all his courtiers and all his land. And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel" (Devarim 34:10-12). Rashi brings an interpretation that "before the eyes of all Israel" refers to the shattering of the Tablets about which Moshe himself related (Ibid. 9:17), "I grasped the two Tablets and threw them from my two hands, and I smashed them before your eyes."
I believe that Reb Shalom Shvadron zt"l would repeat in the name of the Alter of Slabodka zt"l that it seems very strange that of all the great things which Moshe Rabbeinu did, the Torah should pick the breaking of the Tablets as the epitome with which to end the Torah.
Actually, though, the breaking of the Tablets was the foundation of Judaism and one of the most important things which Moshe instituted among the Children of Israel.
The wife of a friend of my father, may he be well, was having a streak of very bad luck. Everything she did seemed to be cursed. Finally, she asked my Dad if he could, perhaps, procure for her a Kabbalistic amulet for protection from the Forces of Evil which seemed to be pursuing her. My father, in turn, asked me if I knew of any rabbis who dealt with such things, which were more uncommon then than they are today, especially in the United States. I was privileged to be close with the great Skolyer Rebbe ztvk"l who was a descendant of miracle workers and himself a master of Kabala and so I approached him with the request for a kamea (amulet) for the unfortunate woman. The Rebbe asked me if she was religious. When I replied in the negative he told me that he could give her something which would protect her from harm but if she was not observant then it would be counter-productive and would add to her troubles. He explained that she did not have to become totally observant and he suggested that she accept upon herself to keep any part of the Torah she wanted, even something small. Then he could supply her with the coveted charm.
I was quite young then and all of this was new to me and very exciting. I immediately reported to my father who spoke to the woman who I was sure would jump at the opportunity to receive supernatural protection. The "price" the Rebbe was asking didn't seem unreasonable at all nor too difficult to fulfill. All she had to do was pick something easy to observe. Big deal, I thought to myself.
Imagine how surprised I was when my father described to me her powerfully negative reaction. She wouldn't hear of anything that had to do, even remotely, with shemiras hamitzvos (mitzvah observance). No matter how much my Dad tried to reason with her, she adamantly insisted that all she wanted was something she could wear which would protect her from the "demons" which were haunting her. She agreed to pay any monetary price for it but she would not even consider making the smallest move towards keeping the Torah's commandments although she obviously did believe in the Supernatural.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon. There are many Jews who believe in Hashem and the power of the Torah, yet are too lazy to observe the mitzvahs. Notwithstanding, however, they seek the supernatural protection the Torah provides to those who uphold her.
I once brought a Sefer Torah to Israel from the USA. When I boarded the El-al plane, I was suddenly surrounded, instantly, by frantic Israelis who ran to kiss the mantle of the holy scroll. They exclaimed, "Now we are sure that we will have a safe flight. We don't need any life insurance." They made way for the Torah to pass by, and, when we arrived in Israel, they insisted that the honor of being the first one to alight the plane belongs to the Torah and the one carrying it. I was very impressed with the reverence they had for the Torah, but, simultaneously, I was disturbed by the fact that these were Jews who were non-observant, yet they wished to believe that they can merit the Torah's protection without any commitment on their part.
And this enigma has plagued the Jewish People for thousands of years. At the time of the first Beis Hamikdash, the people sinned greatly. For many years, Hashem's prophets admonished the people, morning and evening, but to no avail. Although they believed in Hashem, they did not accept His rebuke. Why not? One of the reasons is described in the writings of the prophet Yirmiyahu, who was one of those who tried to prevent the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash but was ignored by the populace. The following are the words of Hashem:
Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Trust you not in lying words, saying, "The temple of Hashem, The temple of Hashem, The temple of Hashem, are these." Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense to Ba'al, and walk after other gods whom you know not. And come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, "We are saved"; that you may do all these abominations. Is this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I Myself have seen it, says Hashem: But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My Name at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these deeds, says Hashem, and though I spoke to you, from early in the morning, but you did not listen; and I called you, but you did not answer. Therefore will I do to this house, which is called by My Name, and in which you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, the whole seed of Ephraim (Yirmiyahu 7:4, 9-15).
Here, in these holy words, lies the clue to the source of the problem. Although the Ten Tribes had already been exiled, "The whole seed of Ephraim," the remaining tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin did not believe that the enemy would conquer them too. Why not? Because they believed that the Holy Temple was invulnerable. Surely, they believed, no one could ever destroy the House of Hashem, and, consequently, it would protect them too.
But Hashem reprimanded them and asked them if they think that the Beis Hamikdash is "a den of robbers?" Did they actually believe, He asked, that they could violate the entire Torah, committing grave offenses, and then use the Temple as a "safety zone?" And to convince them, Hashem reminded them that He had already destroyed His House which was in Shiloh, and He would do the same to His House in Jerusalem.
This tenet of Judaism is what Moshe Rabbeinu demonstrated by breaking the Tablets when he saw the Israelites worshipping the Calf of Gold. Lest they think, for a moment, that they could benefit from the protection of the Torah without committing themselves to its commandments, Moshe broke them "before the eyes of all Israel" to demonstrate that such a behavior would only bring them tragedy. And this is one of the greatest things he did and the very existence of the Torah depends upon it.
Let us not make that same foolish mistake so many others made and suffered because of. Let us commit ourselves fully to the ways of the Torah, and then we will benefit from its protection in this world and the World-to Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network