Thursday, March 04, 2010

the beauty of the luchos and the cheit ha'eigel

The Netzi”v is troubled by the order of the pesukim in our parsha.

Vayitein el Moshe k’kaloso l’dabeir ito b’Har Sinai shnei luchos ha’eidos… (31:18)

This pasuk at the end of chapter 31 seems to bring to completion (k’kaloso…) the description of the giving of the luchos. It is followed in the next chapter by the topic of the cheit ha’eigeil, a full description of which takes us through 14 pesukim. The Torah then continues, opening a new parsha:

Vayifen vayeired Moshe min ha’har u’shnei luchos ha’eidus b’yado, luchos kesuvim m’shnei evreihem, m’zeh u’mzeh heim kesuvim. V’haluchos ma’aseh Elokim heimah, v’michtav michtav Elokim hu charus al haluchos. (32:15-16)

Again, we have a description of Moshe descending from the mountain, and this time the Torah goes into far more detail in its description of the luchos, mentioning the details of the engraving, the stonework, the writing, all of which reinforced the idea that these tablets were fashioned and given by G-d. The Torah then returns to the topic of the eigel and relates Moshe’s discovery of what happened and his response, including the smashing of the luchos which he just received.

Why interrupt the narrative of the cheit with the description of the glory of the luchos? Wouldn’t this description be more apropos at the end of chapter 31 in the context of the pasuk which seems to serve as a culmination of mattan Torah?

The Netzi”v answers that the Torah deliberately withheld the description of the majesty of the luchos until just before Moshe smashed them. Moshe descended from Har Sinai to find a people in chaos, a religious rebellion at hand, an explosive situation that was quickly unraveling before his eyes. There was a need to immediately grab the people’s attention and refocus the agenda. It was at this moment that Moshe revealed the luchos for all to see in their glory. The sight of the awe-inspiring luchos captured the attention of the people, and the shock of seeing these majestic stones smashed to pieces send shock waves through the nation. The shock stilled the riot, and in that moment of pause Moshe was able to assert control over the situation and take charge.

[This approach may resolve a question raised by the Ohr haChaim: Why smash the luchos? Couldn’t they have simply not been delivered by Moshe, perhaps locked away until the people were ready? The answer perhaps is that the destruction of the luchos was a pragmatic necessity to break the momentum of sin.]

I would like to extend this idea of the Netzi”v further; I think his observation about the order of the pesukim tells us something important about how we respond to eigels. Unfortunately, cheit ha’eigel was not a one time event -- there are lots of eigels being built out there that entice and attract lots of folks, particularly kids. What is the usual response (and by no means am I suggesting that this is true in all cases)? The Rabbi, parent, educator will deliver the predictable sermon about throwing away the beauty of Shabbos, the beauty of Torah, and how wonderful it is to be a ben or bas Yisrael. Suddenly we want to draw attention and focus to the majesty of the luchos, the majesty of a Torah lifestyle! But, nebach, in many cases it’s too late – the luchos are already in hand to be smashed with nothing left but a memory.

The order of the parsha teaches us that the enticement and attraction of the eigel goes hand in hand with a blindness to the beauty of the luchos. If only that beauty had been noticed earlier -- if only we (on a communal as well as an individual level) displayed it earlier and more prominently! Why do we wait until the luchos are about to be smashed in frustration by a parent, teacher, or friend trying to deal with an eigel situation to begin speaking of all that is beautiful and pure and holy about Torah? This too is part of the tragedy of the eigel highlighted by the parsha. The message of the beauty of the luchos has to be delivered every single day again and again and again before the eigels get built; it has to be delivered by parents, by teachers, by communities, not in sermons or lectures, but in how we act and what we aspire to.


  1. This is special. Thank you.

  2. Isn't the mann also described after the people complain about it? It highlights how unworthy the object was of the disdain shown.

  3. Fine drasha. Frand would make it into a blockbuster.