On Shabbos my wife wondered about the fact that certain commandments in aseres hadibros are quite verbose, e.g. the mitzvah of Shabbos includes a wordy elaboration on the reason for the mitzvah, while other commandments are stated very succinctly, e.g. lo tignov, where the whole mitzvah consists of two words. My son mentioned that he heard from R’ Y. Perr, the RY of Yeshiva of Far Rockway, who heard from R’ Matisyahu Solomon quoting someone else who he didn’t remember, that the size of the letters on the two sides of the tablets of the aseres hadobros must have been unequal to preseve the physical balance in size. If the mitzvah of Shabbos was written in small writing and the mitzvos of “lo tignov”, “lo tirtzach”, etc. were written in large letters, even though the mitzvah of Shabbos contains more words, it would not take up more space on the tablet, and thus the two halves of the dibros could kept in symmetrical physical proportion.
My wife had an ingenious insight that helps not only explain how proprtion could be maintained despite the difference in word count, but also explains a difficult gemara in Bava Kamma. She suggested that the verbosity of certain commandments was perhaps an embellishment by Moshe Rabeinu (of course, as taught by Hashem, just like the rest of Sefer Devarim), but not actually written on the tablets of the dibros. Perhaps the mitzvah of Shabbos was written in some short, pithy form just like “lo tignov”, but Moshe Rabeinu was told to explain and expand on the mitzvah and provide the details which we read as part of the commandment.
This perhaps sheds light on the amazing dialogue between Amoraim in Bava Kama 54b. R’ Chanina ben Agil asked R’ Chiya bar Aba why the first instance of aseres hadibros does not contain the bracha of “ki tov” (i.e. “l’ma’am yiotav lach” by kibud av, as Rashi explains) while the second dibros do. R’ Chiya replied that before asking him why the dibros contain this bracha, first one must ask whether these words are actually in the pasuk, as he, R’ Chiya, is not sure that they are.
The entire discussion is a pliya. Tosfos (Baba Basra 113) makes the startling claim based on this gemara that the Amoraim did not always know the text of a pasuk in Chumash perfectly. Whatever Tosfos means, such an idea is very hard to swallow – we are, after all, talking about the aseres hadibros! How could R' Chiya not be sure what words are in or not in the pesukim?
Based on my wife’s suggestion, the gemara reads beautifully (see the Kli Chemdah who also suggests this possibility). The Amoraim knew full well what the text of the pesukim in Chumash said with respect to each list of the dibros. What the Amoraim did not know was whether the differences between the first iteration and the second reflect differences as to the actual text engraved on the physical tablets, or whether those differences were simply different nuances in Moshe Rabeinu’s explication, but the text of the tablets was identical. Before asking why “ki tov” appears in the description of one set of tablets and not the other, we have to first ascertain whether these words appeared on the physical tablets at all!