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Parsha Ki Sisa

02/21/2019 09:28:39 PM


The concluding verses in the Torah depict Moshe Rabbeinu’s unparalleled greatness as both a prophet and leader for the Jewish people, and this description ends with the words: “with all the strength of hand and great awe, which Moshe performed in front of all of Israel.”  In elaboration of the words, “in front of all of Israel,” Rashi explains that this references the spontaneous decision Moshe made in destroying the Luchos when he saw the Golden Calf.  From all the miracles that Moshe performed, why is this decision selected for the conclusion of Torah?  Moreover, this ending is ostensibly inconsistent with Chazal’s axiom of always ending on a positive note, because this story reflects negatively on the nation’s sin with the Calf.

The Gemara says that Moshe’s decision to break the Luchos was one of only three instances when Moshe acted with his autonomous ideas that God ultimately approved of.  Why did God not give Moshe the directive to break the Luchos to begin with, and if God did not want it to happen, how was He then approving of Moshe’s act?

The Gemara says that the broken shards of the Luchos were kept in the Aron.  In other instances, Chazal were particularly sensitive to any allusion to the Golden Calf within the confines of the Sanctuary, as evident in the rule that the Kohen Gadol was not allowed to wear anything gold on Yom Kippur.  Summed up in principle of “the prosecutor does not act as the defender,” any traces of the Golden Calf were outlawed.  How ironic is it that the holy Aron itself, inside the Kodesh Kodshim, contained explicit evidence from crime-scene, a picture so incongruous with Chazal’s sensitivity.     

The Midrash Rabba likens Moshe’s role in the Calf to the following parable.  There was a King who wished to marry a woman through an agent.  After the agent gave the woman a ring on behalf of the King, the agent subsequently found that the woman had been promiscuous with another man.  In compassion for the woman, the agent tore the marriage document that was given to him by the King, because he reasoned that it is better for this woman to be judged as a single woman and not as a married woman.  Similarly, when Moshe saw what the Jews had done, he took the Luchos and broke them, so that he could argue that if the Jewish people had seen the punishment for idol worship that was written there, they would not have sinned. 

Seen from the Midrash’s perspective, we can appreciate the dilemma of loyalties that faced Moshe Rabbeinu as he balanced his role as the agent of God and ambassador of Torah together with his role as leader of the Jewish people.  In order to protect his flock, Moshe had to break the Luchos, which was a manifestation of a compromise to Torah itself in favor of the Jewish people.  In the conflict between the King and his new bride, the King’s position in the fight cannot allow him to rip up the document, as that would be a desecration to the King’s honor.  Only the innocent by-stander, the agent, is in the position to compromise his loyalties to the King’s honor and save the marriage.  

The Lubavitcher Rebbe often quoted the following Tanna debey Eliyahu Rabba. God says, “There are two things in the world and I love them both totally with all of my heart- the Torah and the Jews.”  Between the Jews and Torah, which is paramount?  “People say that the Torah comes first, but I say that since the Torah says “speak to Jewish people,” it must be that the Jewish people come first.”  Chazal famously teach us that the opening word of the Torah, “Bereishis,” alludes to the idea that the world was created for the Torah that is called “Reishis” and for the Jews who are called “Reishis.”  The totality of both of God’s loves cannot “allow” him, K’viyachol, to choose between them, but Moshe autonomously saw that the Torah itself is willing to bend to the Jews, and he therefore broke the Luchos to save the people.   Moshe’s decision to break the Luchos saved the Jews, but only by compromising on the Torah itself.  Chazal describe a certain sense of “weakening” that took place in Torah after the first Luchos broke, indicating a change in the way Torah would now be learned, taught, and remembered.  Instead of lucid facts that would be eternally remembered, Torah transformed itself to become more of the “people’s book,” that welcomed the creativity and input of Man, but also would now be easily forgotten and remain elusive.  This may have weakened the Torah’s original state of being just God’s handiwork, but it simultaneously strengthened the power of the Jewish people and their importance to what Torah would now be- God’s handiwork that the Jews controlled.  The concluding message of the Torah, by saying “in front of all of Israel,” is meant to indicate that Torah itself only wants to bring out the greatness of the Jews, an idea that God ultimately supported.  This finish is therefore both an inspiring message and a demanding imperative for the Jews to take the Torah and connect through its medium to God.

The purpose of keeping the broken Luchos in the Aron was to confirm the supremacy of the Jewish People, and highlight the depth of our relationship with God.  If the Torah itself bends to Jewish survival, we are obviously so special and dear to God, and deserving of his attention, love, and forgiveness.  Broken Luchos speak not of the sin of the Golden Calf itself, but rather to the aftermath of the sin- a compromised Torah that meshed with a resilient Jewish nation.

Wed, June 7 2023 18 Sivan 5783