The Breaking of the Luchot
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
R. Avi Chermon Based on a Sicha
On the Yahrzeit of Maran Rosh Hayeshiva zt"l we briefly mentioned the Beit Halevi which discusses the breaking of the Luchot. Now we will discuss that idea in depth.
The pasuk in Ki Tisa (Shemot 34:29) states, "When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai -- with the two Tablets of the Testimony in the hands of Moshe as he descended from the mountain -- Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant when He had spoken to him when He [Hashem] had spoken to him." Chazal ask: "How did Moshe merit these shining rays of glory? ... Rav Shmuel says, when Moshe was writing the Torah, some ink remained in the quill. Moshe passed the quill over his head and the rays of glory were evident." (Tanchuma 37)
This Midrash requires explanation. The pasuk itself says that Moshe's face became radiant when Hashem spoke to him; why does the Midrash offer another reason? Furthermore, Hashem spoke to Moshe many times prior to the giving of the Torah. Why did Moshe merit the shining rays only after this specific conversation with Hashem?
Another Midrash discusses the reward of Moshe's shining rays of glory (Tanchuma Yashan 20):
"Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant." All of the glory which Moshe received was the fruit (dividends), while the principal remains [for Moshe to later receive], as the pasuk says (Chabakuk 3:4), "Rays from His [Hashem's] hands to him [Moshe.]" When the righteous will receive their reward in the world to come, Moshe will also receive his reward, as the prophet states (Yeshayahu 40:10), "Behold Hashem comes with strength, and His arm will rule, His reward is with Him."
What is this Midrash teaching us? Is it not obvious that Moshe will receive reward along with the rest of the righteous people? Moshe was a righteous person. Why would anyone think that Moshe would not receive his reward?
In order to answer these questions, we must look at another Midrash regarding the breaking of the Luchot (Tanchuma 26):
"And the two tablets of testimony were in his hands." (Shemot 32:15) When they performed that deed, [of worshipping the golden calf] Moshe went down the mountain and approached the calf which they made. When Hashem gave him the Luchot, they carried themselves. When Moshe descended the mountain, approached the camp, and saw the calf, the letters of the Luchot flew away, and the Luchot became heavy in Moshe's hands. Suddenly, "Moshe was angry, and he threw them from his hands." (32:19)
We must attempt to understand the words of Chazal. There was obviously something unique about the Luchot which Moshe broke. What was the difference between the first and the second Luchot?
The Midrash relates the following (Shemot Rabbah 47:1):
"Write for yourself these words, because based on these words I made a covenant with Yisrael." (Shemot 34:27) This is similar to the verse, "I will write for them most of My Torah; they were regarded as something alien." (Hoshea 8:12) When Hashem appeared to Moshe on Sinai to give Yisrael the Torah, He taught Moshe the Torah, Mishna, Talmud, and Aggada as it says, "G-d spoke all of these statements" (Shemot 20:1) -- even what a student asks his teacher was taught to Moshe at that time. After he learned all of this from the mouth of Hashem, Hashem instructed Moshe to teach it to Yisrael. Moshe said to Hashem, "Master of the world, I will write it down for them." Hashem responded, "I do not want to give it to them in writing, because it is revealed to me that idol worshippers will rule over them and take it from them, and they will be disgraced by the idolators. I will give them the written Torah, but the Mishna, Talmud, and Aggada, will be given to them orally. Therefore, if the idol worshippers enslave Yisrael, Yisrael will remain separate from them." That is what Hashem meant when he said to the prophet (Hoshea) "[If] I will write for them most of My Torah; they were regarded as something alien." What will I do for Yisrael? I will give them the written Torah, and the Mishna, Talmud and Aggada orally. "Write for yourself these words" -- of the written Torah; "because based on these words I made a covenant" -- this refers to the oral Talmud which separates Yisrael from the idol worshippers.
In the first set of Luchot, everything was revealed. The Mishna, Talmud, and Aggada were all written in it. The Yerushalmi in Shekalim says that the entire Torah was written in between the lines of the Luchot. When someone writes a Sefer Torah, every letter must be surrounded with parchment; no two letters may touch each other. There is great significance in the space between letters. Whenever a song is written in the Torah, it is written with large gaps and the text appears to be a brick structure. Sometimes, in poetry and song, what is written "between the lines" is more significant than the text itself. The Torah itself is referred to as a song (Devarim 31:19) because there is so much written between the lines. In the first set of Luchot, the entire Torah, Mishna, Talmud, and Aggada was contained on the Luchot.
The second luchot only contained the ten commandments. That is why whenever the first Luchot are mentioned, they are never referred to as the "ten commandments," but the second Luchot are. The verse reads, "Hashem gave me the two tablets of stone, written by the finger of Hashem, and on them was written all of the words which Hashem taught you." (Devarim 9:10) The Yerushalmi in Pe'ah says that this refers to the entire Torah, which was written in the first Luchot. However, when discussing the second Luchot, the verse says, "He wrote on the tablets, as on the first ones, the ten commandments." (10:4)
The Gemara in Shabbat 104a relates:
The [inside of the] final Mem and the Samech in the Luchot stood miraculously, since the Luchot were engraved completely from one side to the other. Rav Chisda says, the text of the Luchot was read from both sides. For example, the word "nevuv" was read "vuvan"; "behar" was read "rehab"; "saru" was read "uras."
The Beit Halevi asks, why does the Gemara list words which were not even in the text of the ten commandments? He answers that Chazal here are showing that the entire Torah was written on the first set of Luchot. Even though those words which Chazal mentioned were not in the text of the ten commandments, they appear in other places in the Torah.
What caused there to be such a difference between the first and second Luchot? It is clear that the sin of worshipping the calf caused Hashem to give Yisrael different Luchot, but why did that sin cause an essential difference in the nature of the Luchot?
When discussing the first Luchot, the Torah says, "The Luchot were G-d's handiwork, and the writing was G-d's writing, engraved on the Luchot." (Shemot 32:16) The word "engraved" in Hebrew reads "charut." The Gemara in Eruvin 54a discusses this word:
"Engraved on the Luchot." Rabbi Elazar says, why does it say "engraved?" If the first Luchot were not broken, Torah would never be forgotten by Yisrael. [Text that is engraved can not be erased.] R. Acha Bar Ya'akov says, no nation would be able to rule over Yisrael, as the verse says "charut." Do not read "charut" [engraved]; read "cheirut" [freedom].
As mentioned previously, the Midrash relates that Hashem decided to give B'nei Yisrael the oral Torah so that when B'nei Yisrael would go into exile, the idol worshippers would not be able to take that from them. Today, idolaters managed to steal the written Torah. To prevent them from taking everything, Hashem gave us the oral Torah. The Gemara says in Gittin 60a, "'Al pi hadevarim ha'eleh - (based on these words) I made a covenant with Yisrael." (Shemot 32:27) R. Yochanan says, Hashem made a covenant with Yisrael based on devarim sheb'al peh [oral Torah]." Based on this teaching we see that Hashem's connection to Yisrael is based on the Torah she'eal peh. The nations of the world were able to take the written Torah, but the oral Torah is unique to Yisrael.
When the first Luchot were given, they were "charut," engraved. At that point, no nation was able to rule over Yisrael or to take their Torah. After the sin of the golden calf, the status of Yisrael changed. Exile was decreed upon Yisrael, and therefore Hashem said, "If I write for them the entire Torah and they are enslaved, the idolaters will take it, and Yisrael will be like strangers." Therefore, Hashem separated the oral Torah from the written Torah.
Now it is possible to understand the aforementioned Midrash, "When Moshe descended the mountain, approached the camp, and saw the calf, the letters of the Luchot flew away, and the Luchot became heavy in the hands of Moshe." After the sin, the letters of the oral Torah in the Luchot flew away. All that was left on the Luchot were the ten commandments. It is impossible for the written Torah to exist without the Oral Torah. Without the oral Torah, we would not be able to understand almost every mitzva, including mila, Shabbat, tzitzit, tefilin, and etrog. History shows that every group of Jews that denied the oral tradition was eventually lost. The written Torah cannot exist without the oral Torah, so the Luchot became heavy and fell. As Chazal say, a dead person is heavier than a live one; so too, the "dead" Luchot, devoid of the living oral Torah, became heavy in Moshe's hands.
Why is Hashem's connection with Yisrael forged specifically through the oral Torah? On a simple level, one may understand that because the oral Torah is hidden and the nations of the world can not take it, it is unique to Yisrael, and Hashem is close to us because only we have the complete Torah. In truth, the answer is much deeper. When everything was written in the Luchot, the Aron (Ark) as able to enclose the entire Torah. But after the first Luchot were destroyed, and the Oral Torah was in an oral form, Yisrael received the ability to become the Aron which holds the Luchot. We become the parchment upon which the oral Torah is written. The Torah is now in our essence, not in any external place.
The Tur writes (Orach Chaim 139) that when we say Birkat Hatorah, we thank Hashem who, "Natan Lanu et torato, v'chayei olam nata b'tochaynu - Gave us His Torah and planted eternal life within us." "Gave us His Torah," refers to the written Torah; "planted eternal life within us" refers to the oral Torah, which becomes a part of us. The breaking of the first Luchot is what changed us into people of Torah. By internalizing the Torah, the Torah changes us into different people.
When Moshe went up Har Sinai to write the second Luchot, he thought that they were going to be exactly like the first ones. He thought that the Luchot would include all of the Torah. Based on this idea, one can understand the Midrash regarding the rays which emanated from Moshe. Moshe filled his quill with sufficient ink to write the entire Torah, oral and written. After Moshe wrote the written portion of Torah, Hashem told him to stop writing, and there was ink left over in the quill. Moshe had learned the entire Torah from Hashem and contained it within him. When he was done writing the Torah, "Moshe passed the quill over his head and the rays of glory were evident." Moshe, knowing all of the Torah, became a glowing Sefer Torah, so the rays of glory ratiated from him: "When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai -- with the two Tablets of the Testimony in the hands of Moshe as he descended from the mountain -- Moshe did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant when He had spoken to him." Moshe was shining because "Hashem was speaking to him."
The Gemara in Eruvin mentions regarding the first Luchot, "R. Acha Bar Ya'akov says, no nation would be able to rule over Yisrael, as the verse says "charut." Do not read "charut" [engraved]; read "cheirut" [freedom]." It was possible to write the entire Torah in the first Luchot, because no nation would ever enslave Yisrael and take their Torah. Yisrael would still have a unique connection to Hashem. However, after the sin of the golden calf, exile was decreed, and Yisrael was to be enslaved. Therefore the second Luchot only contained the commandments.
After the first Luchot were broken, a new dimension was added to Torah learning. The Gemara says in Sanhedrin 99b:
Rav Elazar says, every man is created to toil, as it says, "Man is born to toil." (Iyov 5:7) I do not know if this refers to verbal toil or to physical toil. When the verse says "for he saddled his mouth to it," (Mishlei 16:26), I say that it refers to verbal toil. I still do not know if man is created to toil in matters of Torah or in other matters? When the verse says, "This book of Torah should not leave your mouth" (Yehoshua 1:8), I know that man is created to toil in the Torah. This is what Rava says, "All bodies are created for toil, but fortunate are those bodies who toil in the Torah."
R. Moshe Chaim Luzatto (Ramchal) teaches that before Adam sinned, he was physically and spiritually complete. When he sinned, the serpent implanted in mankind a "zuhama," an impurity. Mankind's purpose after the sin was to toil in order to remove that impurity. "By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread." (Bereishit 3:19) Man has an inherent need to toil. If man is inactive and nonproductive, he will become restless and unsatisfied with his life. Through toil, man is purified, and he expels the "sweat of his brow," which is the impurity which was implanted in him. "If you follow my laws" -- that you toil in Torah. (Rashi Vayikra 26:3) The Gemara in Sanhedrin teaches that man needs to toil in order to purify himself. Fortunate is the one who toils in Torah.
When B'nei Yisrael received the second Luchot, they were given the ability to acquire the oral Torah, but only through tremendous work and toil. It is prohibited to write the Oral Torah because Hashem wants us to expend more effort learning it. Even when the Mishna was written because of necessity, it was written in an unclear way so that the toil would not be eliminated. Even when the Gemara was written, it was intentionally written in a way that would leave room for effort.
At Sinai, Chazal say that the "zuhama" was removed from Yisrael. Yisrael had been elevated to a perfected, purified state. Therefore they were given the first Luchot which were "charut." "R. Yehuda says, read "cherut" -- [B'nei Yisrael were] free of exile. R. Nechemia says, free from the grasp of death. Rabanan say, free of punishment." (Shemot Rabba 41:9)
However, B'nai Yisrael sinned, and their original impurity was returned to them. At that point, a significant change occurred in the nature of learning Torah (Yalkut Shimoni Yehoshua 24:17):
It says, "Moshe broke them at the foot of the mountain." (Shemot 32:19) Moshe saw that the letters of the Luchot had flown away, so he threw the Luchot from his hands. At that time, it was decreed upon Yisrael that they would learn Torah through pain, subservience, instability, pressure, and lack of food. Through that pain with which they learned Torah, Hashem will grant reward in the times of Mashiach many fold. As the Navi states (Yeshaya 40:10), "Behold Hashem comes with strength, and His arm will rule, His reward is with him."
Just as Torah comes through pain, so too, other things which Hashem give us come through pain:
Hashem loves Yisrael, as it says "I loved you, says Hashem." (Malachi 1:2) So He gives us pain. There are three precious gifts which Hashem gave to Yisrael, and all are given through pain: Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and the world to come.
If Hashem loves us so much, why does he give us pain? Generally, when someone loves someone else he tries to avoid giving pain! Hashem made the world in such a way that in order to accomplish, one must toil. "By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread." Hashem knows that we need to acquire Torah, and the only way to acquire it is through pain. Therefore, the Yalkut says that "Hashem will grant reward many fold." The reward received will be much more than the effort and pain which was put in.
With this idea we can return to the question which we asked previously. The Tanchuma Yashan said that Moshe will receive his due reward in the future. Why does the Midrash need to teach us that Moshe will receive reward? Why should he not receive reward along with the rest of the righteous?
We mentioned the Midrash that when Moshe descended from the mountain he merited the shining rays of glory by passing the quill over his eyes. This Midrash indicates that what Moshe received was a present from Hashem and that he did not have to work for his rays of glory. One may think that because Moshe did not work for the Torah his reward will not be as great! To this the Tanchuma quotes the same pasuk which the Yalkut quoted with regard to the increased reward due to learning Torah through pain. "Behold Hashem comes with strength, and His arm will rule, His reward is with him." The Midrash teaches that Moshe indeed did spend forty days immersed in learning Torah through pain, and he will receive his reward. Even though he toiled, his reward was not a payment for his efforts. Rather, his rewards were a present from Hashem.
The Gemara in Megillah 6b relates, "If someone tells you that he toiled and he found results (matzati) -- believe him." Why does the Talmud use the word "matzati" which normally refers to finding a lost article? Generally a lost article is found unintentionally, without effort? Through their wording, Chazal are teaching us an important lesson. A person must toil to receive results, but in the end, the results are a gift from Hashem.
The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah states:
"And Moshe went up to Hashem." (Shemot 19:3) This refers to the pasuk (Tehillm 68:19) "You went to the upper worlds, you took a captive, and you bought presents." Generally, when someone enters a country, he will take captive something that the natives do not guard. When Moshe went to the upper worlds, he took the Torah, even though all who saw it guarded it. This is the meaning of, "You took captive." One may think that Moshe received it for free, therefore the verse teaches, "you bought," as it was taken by Moshe. I would think that he received it in return for his payment, therefore the verse says, "presents," as it was given to Moshe as a present.
The Torah was taken captive, as Chazal teach, since the angels did not want to give it to mankind. It was also "bought" through pain and suffering. After it was paid for, it was given as a present, since it is much more valuable than what Moshes paid for it.
Many people and institutions try to make Torah something easy. But everyone must realize that this is the opposite of the desired way to acquire Torah. Torah must be acquired through pain and suffering, through toil and effort. If someone attempts to learn "the easy way," he will not succeed in acquiring Torah!
Shiur ID: 4057