Thursday, February 17, 2022

breaking the luchos "tachas ha'har"

I want to share with you a thought from R' Shlomo Amar, the former Rishon l'Tzion and current Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim.  

When Moshe came down with the luchos, the parsha tells us (32:19):

וַֽיְהִ֗י כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר קָרַב֙ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הָעֵ֖גֶל וּמְחֹלֹ֑ת וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיַּשְׁלֵ֤ךְ מִיָּדָו֙ אֶת־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת וַיְשַׁבֵּ֥ר אֹתָ֖ם תַּ֥חַת הָהָֽר

Why does the pasuk need to tell us where he broke the luchos -- תַּ֥חַת הָהָֽר?  Does it make a difference to us whether Moshe broke the luchos while he was still near the top of the mountain or at the foot of the mountain?  All that matters is that he broke the luchos, period, or exclamation point, and enough said.  

R' Amar first gives us a beautiful pshat in a gemara we all know.  Chazal tell us (Shabbos 104) that the letters mem and samech were miraculously suspended in the luchos, i.e. if you carve out both of these letters, you will be left with a donut hole in the middle attached to nothing.  That donut hole middle somehow floated in the air.  

If we look earlier in the parsha, we see that not only the mem and samech, but the writing of all the letters had a miraculous quality to it.  Rashi comments on (32:15)  מִשְּׁנֵ֣י עֶבְרֵיהֶ֔ם מִזֶּ֥ה וּמִזֶּ֖ה הֵ֥ם כְּתֻבִֽים׃ that משני עבריהם – היו האותיות נקראות, ומעשה ניסים הוא.  The letters could be read the right way no matter which side you looked at the luchos from.

So if the writing of all the letters was miraculous, why the focus on mem and samech?  OK, so there was a bit more or a miracle regarding these letters, but miraculous is miraculous, what's a little more or a little less of a miracle?  

Rav Amar explains that when Chazal were speaking about the mem and samech, it was not about those letters themselves that they were speaking.  They were speaking about what those letters represented.  Samech-mem is often used as an abbreviation for Samael, the angel that is the yetzer ha'ra.  

At the time of mattan Torah, Klal Yisrael became like Adam before the sin.  "Paska zuhamasam," Chazal say -- the pollution of sin that infects all mankind no longer infected Klal Yisrael.  The yetzer ha'ra held no sway and power over them.  So how then could the evil inclination still exist?  Answers the gemara: the mem and samech stood miraculously.  Instead of miraculously protecting us from sin, G-d had to miraculously ensure that the samech-mem, that Samael, that the yetzer ha'ra, could continue its existence.

Moshe, however, was not happy with this arrangement.  Moshe wanted to break the yetzer ha'ra completely and bring about the final tikun.  

The gemara Sukkah 52 tells us

כדדרש רבי יהודה לעתיד לבא מביאו הקב"ה ליצר הרע ושוחטו בפני הצדיקים ובפני הרשעים צדיקים נדמה להם כהר גבוה ורשעים נדמה להם כחוט השערה הללו בוכין והללו בוכין צדיקים בוכין ואומרים היאך יכולנו לכבוש הר גבוה כזה ורשעים בוכין ואומרים היאך לא יכולנו לכבוש את חוט השערה הזה

At the time of the ultimate tikun, the yetzer ha'ra will appear to the tzadikim like a great mountain, a nearly unsurmountable obstacle that they had to withstand.

Moshe said, time to topple and crush that mountain!

But then Moshe heard that there was a cheit ha'eigel, Moshe saw people celebrating with avodah zarah, and he realized that the finish line was still somewhere in the future and not for now.

 וַיַּשְׁלֵ֤ךְ מִיָּדָו֙ אֶת־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת וַיְשַׁבֵּ֥ר אֹתָ֖ם תַּ֥חַת הָהָֽר׃

Tachas here does not mean "under," but rather means "in place of," like 'ayin tachas ayin.'  Instead of breaking down that mountain of the yetzer ha'ra, as he wanted to, Moshe was forced to break the luchos instead.  

The pasuk is not about where Moshe broke the luchos, but rather is hinting to us what the original plan was that we failed to bring to fruition.

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