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   by Jacob Solomon

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After the sin of the golden calf and Moses’ smashing the two tablets of stone, G-d tells Moses to:

Carve out two stone tablets like the first ones. I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, the ones that you smashed (34:1).

The words on the first tablets of stone, and the words on the second tablets of stone were exactly the same. They differed only in one respect. The first tablets were ‘made by G-d’ – entirely (32:16). The second tablets were carved out by Moses and inscribed on by G-d. Thus the first time, Moses had no hand in the making of the Torah. His work was to deliver it. The second time Moses had a hand in both the making and the delivery of the Torah.

As explanation, there are two levels of relationship between the giver and the taker, whether that relationship is parent/child, mentor/trainee, or teacher/student. In the example of teacher/student there are two ways that the student can learn. The entire content of the program may be presented as a keynote lecture, presented brilliantly and with maximum effect. The teacher then leaves the class a superbly illustrated course handbook, with links to websites and other publications. The students leave that session dumbstruck and deeply inspired. They are then told to study the book on a daily basis. There will be an exam in fifteen week’s time, at the end of the semester.

As the weeks slip by, the impact of that spectacular presentation begins to fade. The book gathers its first fine layer of dust. The exam nears, the students put-off study for another day, with mounting feeling of anxiety and without getting anything actually done. The students turn up for the exam, and fail miserably. They had put nothing actually into the course, and the whole initiative foundered.

That is the analogy of the giving of the first tablets. The Israelites felt the impact of the Giving of the Torah and all that went with it. Moses left them straight afterwards, with the experience that they had to review – again, again, and again, until it became part of them. It did not happen. Either the ‘teacher’ had to come back, or the students would ‘shrug off’ the experience, put it down as a failed period, and opt out.

With the second tablets, the relationship was different. The Israelites had already suffered the consequences of being mere recipients in the teacher/student relationship – the outcome being the sin of the golden calf. Moses’ carving the second tablets represented a major turning point. It represented interaction. It showed the Israelites that their efforts (represented by Moses’ carving the tablets) gave them a hand in creating their own destiny. In short, they were involved.

Both tablets were necessary in the spiritual creation of the Israelites. They needed the first experience to know what was not for them – G-d’s giving, their taking. Children who just take, take, take eventually get spoilt – even if what they take is the highest quality. And the feelings of being spoilt create discomfort in the child when he/she realizes that there’s nothing more to take – they’ve seen it all. It does not create any real relationship with the giver on a long term – and will founder when there are more exciting prospects available.

That is what the reciprocating and interactive aspect of the second tablets stood for. By being personally involved, the relationship between G-d and his people was restructured, this time on a more solid basis. The mentor, the teacher, and parent is not just giving. The mentored, the student, and the child is making the effort to respond in kind. By so doing, the relationship is nurtured in depth and character as it progresses.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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