This week’s parsha contains one of the longest, and certainly one of the most famous episodes to be found in the Torah, the story of Chet Heigel and its aftermath. I would like to focus on one particular aspect of the story, the second set of luchot which Moshe is commanded to make in order to replace the first set, which he had smashed upon descending Har Sinai and witnessing Am Yisrael frolicking around the Eigel.
Who, in fact, wrote the second set of luchot? While the passuk is crystal clear that Moshe hewed the actual tablets, the Torah is not quite as unambiguous when it comes to the actual writing of the Asseret HaDibrot. Did Moshe write them, or were they written by Hashem? If we look at the passukim, at first glance it appears that there is no question. “ V’yomer Hashem el Moshe, p’sol lecha shnai luchot avanim karishonim, v’chatvti al haluchot et had’varim asher hayu al haluchot harishonim asher shibarta” (34:1). In our passuk, we read of Moshe being commanded to make the new tablets, and in the same breath, Hashem say that He will write (v’chatavti and not v’chatavta or v’chatav lecha) the words (had’varim) that had been on the original set. Similarly, if we look at the parallel passukim in Sefer Devarim we read “Baet hahee amar Hashem ailai p’sol lecha shnai luchot avanim karishonim…vaechtov al haluchot et hadevarim asher hayu al haluchot harishonim asher shibarta…vayichtov al haluchot kamichtav harishon et asseret hadevarim…vayitnem Hashem ailai.” (10:1-4). Once again, the Torah seems to state very clearly that it was Moshe who prepared the tablets and Hashem who wrote upon them. As the passuk says, “He wrote on the luchot, in identical writing as the first, the ten statements”. Where then, would the question come from?
If we look a bit further in our parsha (34:27-28) the Torah seems to paint a different picture. There the passukim tell us “Vayomer Hashem el Moshe kitov lecha et had’varim haele, ki al pi had’varim haele karati itecha brit, v’et Yisrael. Vayhi sham im Hashem…vayichtov et divrei habrit asseret hadevarim”. Suddenly, we are told that Moshe Rabbenu is commanded to write the Asseret HaDibrot, and he in fact does so. Who, then, wrote the Asseret HaDibrot on the second set of luchot?
The classic opinion found in the Rishonim, and supported by a number of Midrashim, is that it was Hashem who wrote the Asseret HaDibrot in both sets of Luchot. The most famous Midrash, quoted by Rashi (which is probably why it is the most famous Midrash) is found in the Tanchuma (siman 30). There, the Midrash compares the fate of the first set of luchot to that of the ketuba belonging to a woman betrothed to king. The king heard rumors that she had been unfaithful and wanted to have her put to death. The king’s advisor rushed to destroy the ketuba so that she would no longer be legally bound to the king, thus saving her life. Upon further investigation, however, it turned out that while her attendants had acted immorally she was guiltless, prompting the king to seek to renew his relationship with her. When the advisor reminded him that the ketuba had been destroyed, the king answered that since the advisor had destroyed it, he was responsible to replace the paper and ink, and the king would rewrite the ketuba. (The king is Hashem, the woman Am Yisrael, the advisor Moshe Rabbenu and the attendants are the Eruv Rav). Rashi’s point is that it was Moshe who prepared the luchot and Hashem who wrote the Dibrot. In addition to the Midrash that Rashi quotes there is a whole slew of Midrashim which make the same point (see Torah Shleima, volume 22 pp. 48-52) Rashi’s position is also adopted by the Ramban, Ralbag, Abarbanel and Ibn Ezra, to name a few.
The problem with this approach, as previously noted, are the passukim at the end of the perek. How are we to understand the passuk which quotes Hashem as commanding Moshe to write these words(27), and the following passuk which reports that he had done so?
The second question is less difficult to answer. The word “vayichtov”, and he wrote, could easily be attributed to Hashem rather than Moshe. This is the answer that the Ramban suggests. The thornier problem is the imperative, “ktov lecha”, write for yourself. How can this be understood in any way other than Hashem commanding Moshe to write the Dibrot? The approach that the Ramban, Ibn Ezra and Rashbam all take is that Moshe is being commanded to write something other than the Dibrot. The Ramban associates the command with the rest of the passuk, which tells us that based on the things that Moshe is writing Hashem will establish a covenant (brit) with Am Yisrael. It is the details of this covenant, and not the Dibrot, that Moshe is being commanded to write and then pass on to Am Yisrael. The weakness in this approach, which the Ramban acknowledges but dismisses as unimportant, is that the Torah never tells us of such a brit, or of Moshe sharing it with Am Yisrael. In the words of the Ramban, the Torah doesn’t bother (lo chashash hakatuv l’haarich…) to tell us that Moshe did so.
Perhaps because of this question, both the Rashbam and the Ibn Ezra prefer to associate the command to write with an earlier passuk (11) in our perek. “Shemor lecha et asher anochi mitzavcha” “remember (literally: guard for yourself) what I command you, referring to how Bnei Yisrael should conquer the land and various mitzvot that they should perform once they get there. Moshe is now being commanded to write down those instructions. While the Ibn Ezra and Rashbam avoid the problem that the Ramban has, they invite a weakness of their own. Why would the command to write these instructions down appear fifteen passukim later, after a parsha petucha? Furthermore, passuk 27 clearly links the things to be written with a brit, and there is no reason to suggest that the passukim beginning with passuk 11 are part of a brit. In any case, whatever weakness may be found in these answers, in the opinion of most of the mefarshim it pales next to the textual evidence that Hashem wrote the Dibrot in the second luchot.
The other possibility, that Moshe wrote the Dibrot, finds its voice in a number of Midrashim. In theTorah Shleima (pp 125-127), Rav Kasher devotes a section of his “miluim” (addenda) to the question. The obvious problem with this approach is the preponderance of passukim which seem to indicate that the opposite is true. There are two answers that can be suggested, both of which can be found in the Midrsahim. One possibility is that when Hashem says “v’katavti”, “and I will write” (34:1), He is actually commanding Moshe to write those things that He would instruct him to.
The second possibility is that Moshe wrote the Dibrot on the second luchot with Hashem’s help. We know that the writing of the Dibrot was in fact miraculous in nature, with letters such as the “mem” and “samech” being suspended within the tablet without any visible means of support. Clearly then, it is impossible to posit that the writing on the second set of luchot was identical to the writing on the first, as the passuk in Devarim had indicate, unless Hashem was somehow involved in the writing. By claiming that the writing of the Dibrot was a joint effort we neatly avoid the problems that we have raised. We have reconciled the seemingly conflicting passukim, by showing that they are all correct, without any rereading or reinterpretation.
Interestingly, this answer was suggested by the Mesech Chochma (R. Meir Simcha Cohen of Dovonesk), apparently independent of the Midrashim. The Mesech Chochma expands on the theme of the joint writing in a novel and fascinating way. According to R. Meir Simcha, the destruction of the original luchot had far reaching repercussions. Had the first luchot not been destroyed, then a divine light would have permeated Am Yisrael, purifying the physical aspect of our existence and rendering us the Mamlechet Cohanim and Goy Kadosh, a level to which we presently can only aspire. The destruction of the luchot meant that the task of purification, rather than coming from Hashem, is now left to us. Similarly, the task of learning and understanding Torah, which would have been automatic, is now difficult and demanding. Despite our best efforts, however, the ultimate achievements can only be reached with help from Hashem. This reality is reflected in the preparation of the luchot and the writing of the Dibrot. It is no longer a divine task, but a human one. Moshe must not only hew the luchot but write the Dibrot as well. But to complete the task, to reach the level that the writing is identical to that of the first luchot with letters miraculously suspended in mid-air, is beyond the capabilities of any individual, even Moshe Rabbenu. For that, as for true success in limmud Torah, we must have a partner in Hashem. Our ability to purify ourselves and to elevate ourselves is both limited and limitless. Our task must be to achieve as much as possible on our own, while enabling Hashem to push us even further.