Tag Archives: Redemption

Parshat Shemini (5774)


Leviticus 9 – 11

Because Creation is a Process

Life most definitely has its ups and downs. Even more frustrating to many of us is when we feel that we aren’t making progress, or even like we are going backwards from the goals that we most aspire to. This is common to most people, and that is what we are going to talk about. You aren’t alone in this, my friends.

The children are waiting for seven day's for the presence of G-d to appear. And so far nothing happened. How would you feel?As we get into this weeks lesson I want to start by reminding us that even though we are still early on into a new book of the Torah, Vayikra – the book of Leviticus – this is really a continuation of the story we were following in Shemot – in Exodus. Later books are often regarded as repetitions by scholars, but these are the original instructions. So in this book we will find many signs and hints to the basic groundwork of the ritual worship, and the philosophy driving them. I want us to keep this in mind as we read this book. There is so much we can learn if we slow down and just consider it.

Let us begin with the key verse we will focus on from this week’s parsha:

“Moses and Aaron went into

the Tent of Meeting,

and when he came out

they blessed the people.

And the glory of Hashem appeared

to all the people.”

| Vayavo Moshe ve’Aharon

| el-Ohel Mo’ed

| vayetse’u

| vayevarechu et-ha’am

| vayera chevod-Hashem

| el-kol-ha’am

Leviticus 9:23

In the previous verse we learned that Aharon lifts up his hands to extend the priestly blessing, he gives the birkat kohanim. “May Hashem bless you and keep you – May Hashem make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you – May Hashem lift His face unto you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26; see Rashi to Lev. 9:22; see Parshat Nasso 2012)

And then there is a second blessing that is also given, we aren’t exactly sure what that is. (see Parshat Shemini 2011) However, according to midrash we are given a suggestion of what the second set of blessings are. We discussed this a few weeks ago. (see Parshat Pekudei 5774)

Rashi repeats these blessings again in his commentary upon this verse as well:

Then they came out and blessed the people: They said: “May the pleasantness Hashem, our G-d, be upon us (Ps. 90:17); May it be Gd’s will that the Shechinah rest in the work of your hands.” [And why did they choose this particular blessing?] Because throughout all seven days of the investitures, when Moses erected the Mishkan, performed the service in it, and then dismantled it daily, the Shechinah did not rest in it. The Israelites were humiliated, and they said to Moses, “Moses, our teacher, all the efforts we have taken were only so that the Shechinah should dwell among us, so that we would know that we have been forgiven for the sin of the [golden] calf!” Therefore, Moses answered them (verse 6), “This is the thing Hashem has commanded; do [it], and the glory of Hashem will appear to you. My brother Aaron is more worthy and important than I, insofar as through his offerings and his service the Shechinah will dwell among you, and you will know that the Omnipresent has chosen him.”

ויצאו ויברכו את העם: אמרו ויהי נועם האלהינו עלינו (תהלים צ יז), יהי רצון שתשרה שכינה במעשה ידיכם. לפי שכל שבעת ימי המלואים, שהעמידו משה למשכן ושמש בו ופרקו בכל יום, לא שרתה בו שכינה, והיו ישראל נכלמים ואומרים למשה משה רבינו, כל הטורח שטרחנו, שתשרה שכינה בינינו ונדע שנתכפר לנו עון העגל. לכך אמר להם זה הדבר אשר צוה התעשו וירא אליכם כבוד ה‘ (פסוק ו), אהרן אחי כדאי וחשוב ממני שעי קרבנותיו ועבודתו תשרה שכינה בכם ותדעו שהמקום בחר בו:

Rashi to Leviticus 9:23

We see these two blessings repeated again for us, as they were in the commentary for Exodus as well. However, if you notice the order is actually reversed to what it was before. In the commentary for Parshat Pekudei we saw the lines of “Yehi ratzon / May it be Your will…” first, and then followed by a verse of Psalm. Here they are reversed. In fact the section of “yehi ratzon” is also truncated here, so I believe this text is just mentioning all this in passing. And therefore does not give much consideration for the actual decorum of the process. That or it is not defined firmly one way or the other because of speculation. One can’t exactly be sure.

As when previously discussed both then and also last week, when we have been talking about the Mishkan (tabernacle) we have most often been talking about the people having an outlet for their spiritual and creative expression. That they people felt the need to create this sanctuary in order to pro-actively do something about their need to feel close to G-d. We have talked about how we should thus encourage people to be active, and how to respond to people’s creativity. But we have really sidestepped around the issues of why they are doing all of this, only mentioning it in passing.

I want us to step back and remind ourselves once again. It is because there was a rift made between the children and Israel and G-d on the day that they made, and worshiped, the Golden Calf. The presence of Hashem which hung around and guarded them, it was no longer with them in that manner. They felt alone and exposed. They felt the shame and consequences of their error. Now they desperately wanted to feel that closeness to G-d once again.

There are some ironies of both to stories of the egel (the calf) and the making of the Mishkan. You don’t have to think too hard to come up with a few. Like how is it that the people are this captivated with their construction of all of this, when they had previously been punished for also constructing items of worship? Then they made an egel of gold, and now they are making angelic figures and the like as well. Didn’t this get them in trouble before? So what’s the difference?

The difference was that they intended to make items to help them worship, but instead they made items which became idol focuses of their worship. Our rabbis tell us, as it is also pointed out in philosophical works such as the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and the Kuzari of Yehuda haLevi, that the people were not really constructing items to necessarily worship, but to help them focus their worship toward G-d. The eygel being a way to meditate upon G-d, not to worship as a god. But it got twisted around, in a most horrible way.

What the scriptures and our sages reveal is that the people fell into error when they could no longer be patient and wait for Moses to return with the instructions of Torah. Instead they constructed something of their own, according to a design they were already familiar with from past idolatry. They couldn’t wait for G-d or Moses, so they went at it themselves in a disastrous spectacle.

A spectacle which harmed this people and left them alienated from the presence of G-d. This guiding presence departs during the entire incident of the eygel.

Because the children of Israel couldn’t wait and be patient, they literally took matters into their own hands. And in doing so, they didn’t progress. They instead lost the presence of G-d which had guided them and comforted them.

Now that the Israelites had the instructions from Moses on how to do this worship right, this was what consumed them. And now in line with these commandments the Israelites are also desperately trying to atone for themselves as well. Something which can only be accomplished through a true act of worship, as described by Moses in the revelation of Torah. They need the temple worship, in order to atone for their sins.

This was the cause of anxiety. Not only were they waiting for the presence of G-d to return to them. Not only were they ready to show real acts of worship done right. But they were also desperately waiting for G-d to accept their gifts with a sign of His presence, so that they will know that their sins have been forgiven. This is what they are anxiously awaiting, for validation of their atonement and redemption.

What our midrash further tells us here is just amazing. We are told that the Israelite’s anxiousness and sense of disappointment became overwhelming over the week of the inauguration of the Mishkan. Not only did the presence of G-d not appear to them until the end of the seven days, we are told that on each of the seven inauguration days the Mishkan was reconstructed – as it was dismantled each day of this week of dedication.

How can this be, how is it that our sages suggest such a thing? Why would it be taken apart and set-up up again each of these days?

Remember how earlier I was saying how this book of Leviticus is a continuation of the story started in Exodus? In Exodus chapter 29 we learn that the inauguration is supposed to take seven days, that’s what the whole chapter is about.

But from where do we get the idea it was reconstructed and erected seven times? Keeping in mind this story as all one, the rabbis took notice that there are two times we see a plan given of the Mishkan  in Exodus (Parshat Tetzaveh; 25:10-30:38, 31:7-11) and five times in Leviticus (Parshat Pekudei; 35:11-19. 6:8-39:32, 39:33-42, 40:1-16, 40:17-33). Seven times in this long narrative over two books.

Our rabbis would suggest we have it repeated seven times because it was reconstructed each day, for seven days. And as we often mention, our sages are of the opinion that nothing is redundant and superfluous in the Torah, so each of these descriptions must have been useful for something. Thus there are seven descriptions, for the seven times it was reconstructed.

The number seven is mystically significant in our tradition. It has great symbolism for us. There are seven days in the creation story. And therefore there are seven days of the week. There are seven years in the shmitah cycle – which again completes its cycle with a fallow year for agriculture in Israel next year in 5775. And of course there are seven branches on the Menorah. There are many connections to the number seven found in the scriptures.

We can clearly see that two themes seem to run through them all. Creation, and the completion of a cycle.

When it comes to creation we understand what these people were doing now, they were trying to redeem themselves. They were trying to get close to G-d. Now they were trying to get their sins forgiven, and also beginning to worship the correct way. But nothing happened. G-d did not show up and accept their gifts those first few days, so we are told they felt nichlamim – they were humiliated.

Unlike the eygel (calf) which somehow got them immediate gratification, the creation of this tent of worship and all its service was taking time. But if we think about it, creation took time even for G-d – seven days to create the world. Should they not have expect that their own creative endeavors would take time to be full achieved as well? Is that not a lesson which we can take away from this?

And the constant construction and deconstruction of the Mishkan all these days, is this not something that is mirrored in our own daily lives? Do we not often put hard work into our endeavors, making so much progress, only to see setbacks? When we think we’ve gotten somewhere, we see our work and plans deconstructed right before our eyes.

What we learn is that the first six days were just dress rehearsals. In the end we are told on the seventh day fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings. And thus the presence of G-d returned, the people were forgiven and the service began. (see Parshat Shemini 2011)

But why is it so important that we make mention of this?

The reason is because it serves as a lesson for us like it did for the children of Israel in the wilderness, that we need to keep at it until our mission is accomplished. And that we need to stick with the full cycle, because creation is a process. Often times we don’t get it all right the first few times, but eventually we will and it will be glorious. We just need to stick with it, and be patient as we see it through.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Parshat Bo (5774)


Exodus 10:1 – 13:16

Jews Sure Have a Lot of New Years Celebrations!

The New York Ball in 1978

I would like to wish a happy New Year to all my friends and fellow students in Torah learning. I start our lessons off excited after a celebrating our emergence into the new civil year. Which gets me thinking, us religious Jews sure have a lot of New Year days.

If you think about it, we are just a few months off from Rosh haShanah (Hebrew, “the head of the year,” the start of the year) which begins our civil calendar; this the fiscal year in Jewish legal terms. And of course we have TuBiShvat, the new year for the trees which marks the renewal of nature; this comes later this month

However in the Torah, we have one New Year identified for us. Here in this week’s parsha, we are told that the first of the heads of the months (“rosh chadashim”) will begin here (“rishon hu lachem l’chad’shai hashanah / to you it shall be the first of the months of the year”). From the month of Nissan, the month of liberation from Egypt and the celebrating of Passover, we are told to begin counting our months. This is one of the first mitzvot the Torah relays to us, one that is given even before the full revelation of the Torah at Sinai, it is for us to observe the months. Starting here, starting now.

This year I found myself with great revelry celebrating the coming of the civil new year as it passed this week. Generally I’ve been ambivalent about the Gregorian New Year, the reboot point set for the common culture. But this year I found so many legal and civil things coming to fruition with the New Year (the start of the Affordable Care Act, important new environmental ordinances, etc.) I just had to celebrate. Plus I get to leave a lot the financial and emotional stress of the last year behind me, and take a sigh of relief.

I think that is what the observance of the New Year is about. It’s about having a chance to start over. To draw a line, and on the other side leave behind all the burdens of the that we need to leave to the past.

Our Torah does reinforce this view, when the suffering of the children of Israel becomes too much G-d has them start over with a new year and challenges them to demand their freedom. I would hope that as we come into a new year we celebrate a new and better self, and then we work like mad to achieve that freedom.

Though it may seem annoying to many other people that we have so many new years observances in out Jewish culture, and even more so as we observe the new years observed by our own local cultures though out the world. But I think it is beautiful that we have all these points to start again. And the truth is we can start over at any time, if we just choose to recognize it and celebrate it.

Now you might have a lot of problems, you might be finding it hard to let go. You might be asking yourself how people can even ask you to celebrate, even though you still have all these hang ups? The truth is a new start always begins in misery and darkness.

Our Torah tells us that the children of Israel, and both Moses and Aaron, were to observe the start of their new-found freedom while they were still in Egypt, a fact that is revealed at the start of this discussion about the activities of the exodus and Nissan in Exodus chapter 12.

As the moon passes into the New Moon cycle Moses points to the sky and tells them that this is the sign of the start of these new months. But if we think about it, as he reveals the start of the months there is no moon in the sky to signal this new start. The sky and the land below is dark.

New starts generally begin in darkness. This is truth that has been recognized to be so since the most ancient times. Whereas the first spring month of Aires has always been observed as the start of the actual year, and has been so for scientific and previously for legal purposes for as long as humans remember, when the sun is bright and triumphant over winter.

The months conversely have been classically recognized to begin in darkness, at the New Moon. This understanding was often exploited by pagans and magical workers, who would begin the workings in the darkness of the month in hopes their spell would follow the cycle of the moon and grow stronger as the moon waxed bright in the heavens. The hope was that when the full moon came the problem would go away, or something dramatic would happen to change their fate.

While we might frown upon and mock the superstitiousness and occultism of these people, in some ways our culture also has some touches of this type of observance. This earthy, cyclical mindset can be applied even to Judaism as well. And it is even mandated by the Torah, being reclaimed in a different fashion for a holy purpose.

Immediately after we begin counting the months, Moses prescribes for the Hebrews the actions of preparing for Passover. They begin early in the 10th day of the month of Nissan, exactly 180-degrees opposite Yom Kippur – the day of atonement – which falls six months later on the 10th of Tishrei. As the moon has begun to grow to a crescent one is to prepare for their sacrifice, and then clear out all the chametz – the leavening in one’s home and possession. So that on the 14th of Nissan, on the full-moon of the month of Spring, we can observe the Passover Seder in order to celebrate the miracle of our freedom.

We keep an ancient tradition, though with the thought in mind that we are working towards something good. We aren’t just engaging in wishful thinking, hoping that our struggle will be magically resolved for us. The Torah shows us that this process of acquiring freedom and redemption is an active process. There is more to this victory than showing up at the winners circle!

Coming out of so many civil holidays, one might even get a bit annoyed that I bring up Pesach now. Because Passover is a lot of work! More so than any other time of the year. Most all of us are familiar with the difficulty of cleaning for the holiday. Literally everything in our house is inspected for chametz. It is this substance, leavening and its agents, that we seek to get rid of as they are representative of sin and pride in our lives. In that time of renewal and rebirth, we work harder than any other time of the year in order to achieve a new level of freedom and liberation in ourselves. Free from the negative “additives” that will ferment and sour in our lives.

On the first Pesach, they started their process of deep introspection and inspection four days before. When they started the processes of keeping the pascal lamb. For four days they kept the animal for the sacrifice close by. Not just so they could proudly display the animal they chose for the mitzvah, but to also continuously inspect the unblemished nature of their sacrifice.

Though the Torah says in this case we are to take the lamb on the fourth day, it does not necessarily mean that future sacrifices were mandated to be done on that day. Today in the modern age, we don’t have the ability to observe the mitzvah of the sacrifice so we don’t worry about the animal aspect. We instead focus more so on this cleaning away of the chametz, the sin and pride inside of us. And we begin this process much earlier, purely out of necessity as the complications of modern life has caused the fermentations of chametz to creep into the oddest place in our daily lives.

For a new start, we need to commence with inspecting our sacrifice. For us religious Jews, we need to consider our service before G-d. Is our avodah pure, complete and unblemished? Our being and our homes, are they chametz-free, or are there some odd bits of sin and arrogance still riding along with us? Have we shelved some of this away unwittingly? Has some of this fallen into the cracks and is need of being removed from our lives?

Freedom can start today if you want it. The Hebrews weren’t free yet when all this is spoken to them, yet they began to prepare their lives and ready themselves in an pure fashion. They did their part, with the understanding that G-d would reciprocate and do His part to aid their liberation. They corrected their lives, and got ready to walk into a new way of life. But it all really began with the children of Israel following G-d’s command to observe that they were starting over, to put the past behind and start counting from the here and now.

Now even though the break for a new start might not be obvious right away, we need to realize and observe it as our new rosh – our new starting point. Like the new moon which is hidden, it might not be obvious right away and we need to be patient. Though the fact is our fresh start begins at the blackest part of the night, during the moonless nights of new moon. Renewal and redemption most often begin when its darkest in our lives.

We need to prepare ourselves and do this hard work of self-inspection first. If we are committed to this then our passover will surely come, and we will be able to be free and unashamed as we celebrating in the full moonlight!

You can decide to start over any time, my friends. You can start with a new year and new resolutions at any time. And it doesn’t need to be connected to any religion or culture.

In our spiritual lives as Jews, we can also find many places to make a fresh start. Every month, we also have another starting point that we can easily mark; every time Rosh Chodesh comes. The truth is we can start over at any time. You don’t need to wait for another New Years day to come in order to get a chance to restart. Freedom starts today, if you recognize it and do something about it.

Happy New Year, here’s to a fresh start!

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Parshat Ki-Tissa (2013)


Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

How G-d is an Expert at Working with Second Chances

This look at Parshat KiTissa is not going to be a very intellectual undertaking, because intellectualism doesn’t comfort the realities of our pain. This is a look through the eyes of belief; belief that our lives matter, and we deserve dignity, and as dignified beings our sufferings have purpose and merit. May you be strengthened!

brokentabsAs we know, even the name of the Torah portion has a hidden meaning that sums up the entire essence of the whole portion. The Parsha begins with the words, “Vayedaber Hashem el-Moshe lemor, ‘Kitissa et-rosh benei-Yisra’el…‘ / And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘When you take a census of the children of Israel…’”

Our parsha is named after these key words, “kitissa et-rosh” in reference to the commandment of taking the census, however literally these words mean “when you lift the head.” This is also a colloquial phrase that we see similarly used in Genesis 40:13, where we see the phrase, “yisa Paroh et-roshecha / and Pharaoh will lift your head,” meaning to be singled out, given special consideration, to be put on the spot. If we look closely maybe we can find direction for what to do when situations in life seem to be singling us out, when difficulties seem to be squarely directed at as.

In Parshat KiTissa we find that the children of Israel are engaged in the Exodus from Egypt and are encamped at the base of Mount Sinai. This is one of the most pivotal points in all of Jewish history.

As wonderful as the story is of Moses descending with the tablets containing the Law of G-d on them should be, this account is almost immediately overshadowed with the tragedy of the destruction of the first two tablets of the Ten Commandment. And too often we quickly glance over the second part of the story, as the revelation of Torah is redeemed from the catastrophe and a second set of tablets are made.

But before we get there let us familiarize ourself with where we are at, both in the story of the Exodus, as well as our timing in the order of the readings of the Torah portions. Because even in this account there is an amazing lesson.

Bezalel and The Wise-Hearted Person

In this parsha we find that Moses is on Mount Sinai and is communing with G-d. During this time of discussion between Hashem and Moses the entire Torah is being revealed. For 40 days and nights Moses is audience to G-d’s voice and revelation there. When Parshat KiTissa begins we find that a census is being ordered in order to raise money for the rectification of the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle. Torah law prescribes that a census is taken by each person contributing a certain set amount money; the number of people is known by the sum of the money collected. In this respect census was akin to a form of taxation. The preceding sections of Parshat Tetzaveh and Parshat Terumah were entirely about the service of the Tabernacle, and this mention of a census is just a logical stopping off point on its way to explaining how this is all going to come into being. (see Parshat Terumah 2013)

But more than just explaining the finances of how this was all going to come into being, Hashem also elaborated on the human element of how all the holy vestments and items were going to be made. We read with at the beginning of chapter 31:

“And Hashem spoke to Moses, saying:

I have called by name

Betzalel son of Uri, son of Chur,

of the tribe of Judah

I have filled him with divine spirit,

and with wisdom,

and with insight,

and with knowledge,

and with all forms of craftsmanship.”

| Vayedaber Hashem el-Moshe lemor:

| Re’eh karati veshem

| Betzal’el ben-Uri ven-Chur

| lemateh Yehudah

| Va’amale oto ruach Elohim

| bechochmah

| uvitvunah

| uveda’at

| uvechol-melachah

Exodus 31:1-3

I find this to be such a beautiful statement.

As one reads through the Torah’s descriptions of the Tabernacle and all its elements it all begins to seem so overwhelming, so awesome in form and sheer size that it seems almost impossible to imagine, let alone build. Even to this day, great minds stumble on trying to conceive of this holy place in all its wonder. I can only imagine that even more so to our ancient ancestors this must have seemed something miraculous to perform. But if it didn’t already lean on the miraculous, it most surely must have when G-d reveled His choice of architect, Bezalel son of Hur. We are told in Talmud Sanhedrin 69b that he was 13 years old when he made the Tabernacle!

In G-d’s choice of selecting a craftsman He selected a mere boy to make the holy vessels and His places of worship. In doing so G-d was displaying His ability to guide man by imparting all form of wisdom, insight, and knowledge to him. He was displaying His desire to impart into man character and ability. All these things He imparted to Bezalel, displaying this young boy as a vessel of otherworldly ability; displaying him to the nation as whole of what He could do through us all! I love the commentary of Artscroll on this verse which explains, “G-d showed that He had not merely redeemed Israel from slavery. He had endowed them with the capacity to serve Him beyond their ordinary human potential.”

But of course, there are the nay sayers, those who like to limit G-d by saying that either it was a one time event, or a special act He only performed for one person. For those people the Torah elaborated saying, in verse 6:

“And I, behold, I have assigned with him

Oholiav son of Achisamach,

of the tribe of Dan,

and I have endowed the heart

of every wise-hearted person with wisdom,

and they shall make all

that I have commanded you.”

| Va’ani hineh natati ito et

| Oholi’av ben-Achisamach

| lemateh-Dan

| uvlev kol-chacham-lev

| natati chochmah

| ve’asu et kol-asher

| tziviticha

Exodus 31:6

In the scriptures we see that G-d empowers people with chochma, with wisdom; we also understand this word to correctly mean “natural ability.

Herein we find one of the key factors in the tragedy of the Gold Calf, it was entirely unnecessary. The creation of the Tabernacle itself was in order to rectify the need for a tangible place of worship in order that the people feel a closeness to G-d, there was no need for them to create an oracle in the form of a Gold Calf. The solution was presented before the problem presented itself, in the form of the Tabernacle. Sadly the people’s need to take action into their own hands displayed two terrible characteristics of doubt:

  1. Out right doubt: the people did not believe that G-d was truly able to guide man through his natural abilities to do something truly supernatural and extra-ordinary

  2. Impatience as doubt: the people were so crippled by doubt that even if they could accept that G-d could divinely work through them, they looked at Bezalel as a mere boy and incorrectly assumed that they would have to wait for him to grow to be a man before he could complete his work. They were unwilling to wait, this is reiterated in the people’s inability to wait for even 40 days for Moses to descend from the mountain and instruct them.

The true tragedy is that in the people’s choice of creating the Golden Calf they were seeking out what was fast and easy; an image that was familiar to them, in the form that was immediately available.

It is my hope that as we read this section of the Torah we grasp on to the truth that G-d is still in the business of refining His people! It is my sincere hope that we all learn to grasp hold of a youthful heart like that of young Bezalel, that is malleable and open to being guided by the natural wisdom and ability placed in us by G-d to rise to the challenges presented to us in this life.

The Two Sets of Tablets

Of course as the story goes on we find that Hashem commands Moses to go down from the mountain carrying the tablets of the Law presented to him by G-d Himself, as the people had broken out into adoration of the Gold Calf. As we know, the first set of tablets are destroyed.

This parsha becomes very personal to me at this point. I have often considered the situation surrounding the presentation of the tablets. What should have been a time of rejoicing seemingly turns into a disaster. It appears as though when the tablets of G-d’s Law are smashed so too are the promises and hopes for them. And this is where my heart has been reflecting. How often have our dreams taken form in amazing shape and color, only to crash down and left in a smoldering heap?

Let us understand that the tablets Moses descended with were miraculous and truly wondrous. Of them the parsha reads:

“Moses turned and descended

from the mountain,

with the two Tablets of Testimony

in his hand,

Tablets inscribed on both their sides;

they were inscribed

on one side and the other.

The Tablets were G-d’s handiwork,

and the script was the script of G-d

engraved on the Tablets.”

| Vayifen vayered Moshe

| min-hahar ushnei

| luchot ha’edut

| beyado

| luchot ktuvim mishnei evreihem

| mizeh umizeh

| hem ktuvim

| Vehaluchot ma’aseh Elohim hemah

| vehamichtav michtav Elohim hu

| charut al-haluchot

Exodus 32:15

This statement can also be correctly read to meant that the writing was not necessarily written on all sides, but that it was visible from both sides, thus the Midrash suggesting the tall tale that the tablets were made out of Sapphire. Both the Torah and our Tradition suggest that these tablets were something unique and wondrous.

And for many fundamentalists the story usually ends with the destruction of the first set of tablets. They like to stop and give their commentary on the grave tragedy, but go no further. They can’t get beyond the loss of the “ideal.” But this story, like life, doesn’t just end in face of a tragedy. We find after the fallout of the people’s wrongful acts had passed G-d renews and reinforces His covenant with Israel! Thus we read:

“Hashem said to Moses,

‘Carve for yourself two stone Tablets

like the first ones,

and I shall inscribe on the Tablets the words

that were on the first Tablets,

which were shattered.’”

| Vayomer Hashem el-Moshe:

| Psol-lecha shnei-luchot avanim

| karishonim

| vechatavti al-haluchot et-hadevarim

| asher hayu al-haluchot harishonim

| asher shibarta

Exodus 34:1

As I read this parsha I began to be comforted, and I started to understand the position of Chassidut (mystical tradition) that the second set were superior to the first. I had always wondered how this was so. How could this be? One would think that because the first set were priceless and heavenly in composition they would be superior to a set made out of ordinary stone cut by the hand of man. But it is precisely because this second set were “ordinary” in origin that they were far more extraordinary than the first. Something created by the Divine is wondrous, but that is what we would expect, so it is not surprising. But what is surprising is when G-d takes ordinary things, in fact second chances of crude means, and elevates them to holiness equal to anything He could miraculously create.

In Chassidut we learn that every descent is for the purpose of an ascent. That sometimes things in life, challenges and failures are merely a vehicle that Hashem has sent our way to get us to a higher spiritual place. Something things have to be broken in order for us to appreciate the intervention of G-d in our lives!

We go on to read that Moses did in fact carve two stone tablets like the first and carried them in hand up the mountain. (v.4). Then we read that G-d sealed a covenant with Israel, and then lays out the major traditions and holidays of the Jewish people. (v.10-25) When these things are spoken G-d then tells Moses to write the words of this covenant down for himself (v.27). But I love how the Artscroll translation correctly changes the inflection at this point when it comes to the Tablets and goes on to say, “vayichtov al-haluchot et divrei habrit aseret hadevarim / and He wrote on the Tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” This is in agreement with verse 34:1 when G-d says, “I shall inscribe on the Tablets.” This position is also supported by the Rashbam and Ibn-Ezra.

And this is one of the most beautiful lessons of the Torah. That if we take our second chances, no matter how crude and mundane they appear, and present then before Him He will reach in and touch them with His own hand and make them holy! And this, after all, is the purpose of Torah and very meaning of holiness; to take ordinary things and elevate them to greatness!

This is how Hashem makes His words ring true, “I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart.” (Jeremiah 31:32)


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