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Parsha Eikev

08/22/2019 07:38:51 PM


Parshas Eikev revisits the tragedy of the Golden Calf from Moshe’s perspective, and Moshe shares his experiences of carrying the nation through their mistake, his monumental decision to break the Luchos, and his extended prayers for God’s forgiveness.  While most of the points of the story are a review, one novel point is that when Moshe was instructed to carve new Luchos, he was also instructed to make an Aron to house the Luchos.  When God tells Moshe to make this Aron, he clearly says to first carve the Luchos and only afterwards to build the Aron, but when Moshe actually achieves these projects, his narrative suggests that he first built the Aron and only afterwards carved the Luchos.  Explaining this deviation from God’s instructions, Rashi explains that Moshe first built the Aron because he pragmatically reasoned that he would have no place where to store the Luchos if they were carved first.  Ironically, this is reminiscent of a similar discrepancy between Moshe’s instructions for Betzal to construct the Klei Hamishkan and the Mishkan, in that order specifically, where Betzalel pragmatically challenged this on account that one first builds a house before the furniture.  In both instances, there is a conflict between the ideal and the pragmatics- the ideal prioritizes the purpose and objective of the project and sees the Klei Hamishkan and the Luchos as higher than the Mishkan and the Aron, whereas the pragmatics prioritize the practicalities- and they are both right.  God’s instructions reflect the sense of idealism and are ordered in a way that display the true objective of the project, whereas the actual transfer to reality in the practical world will deviate a bit and highlight pragmatic value.  Capturing the duality of Moshe Rabeinu, this irony shows how sometimes Moshe was more “God-like” in his role of transferring God’s instructions to Betzalel in the impractical but ideal way, and sometimes Moshe is more human and favors the pragmatics when he is in the human role of building the Luchos and Aron. 

The ideal approach of carving the Luchos before making the Aron shows that the true purpose of the Aron was to house the Luchos, and taken a bit further, the Brisker Rav and Meshech Chochma both say that an Aron cannot exist without Luchos.  Fearing that the goyim would capture the Aron in the destruction of the First Temple, King Yoshiya hid the Aron, and even when the Second Temple was restored, no attempt was made to construct a new Aron and there was merely a symbolic stone that stood in the Kodesh Kodshim for the entirety of the Second Temple.  In a sharp way of thinking, the Rav and the Meshech Chocham say that no attempt was made because even if the physical structure of the Aron was replicated, it “would not be an Aron,” because without the Luchos inside, an Aron is simply not an Aron.  Unlike some of the other Klei Hamikdash which had independent holiness and meaning, the entire holiness of the Aron is contingent upon the Luchos, and if they no longer had the Luchos, it was purposeless to make a new Aron.  Following this approach, the ideal approach of first making Luchos and only then the Aron takes on a deeper meaning, because it emerges that it is impossible to make an Aron first.  The accomplishment of making an Aron cannot be realized until the Aron houses the Luchos, and this paradox shows that the Luchos must be first in the ideal, and although Moshe practically built the Aron first, the truth is that idealism won in the sense that it was not truly an Aron until the Luchos were inside.   

One can question this approach by looking at the Gemara in Menachos 99, where the Gemara says that the Aron housed not only the second Luchos, but also the broken shards of the first Luchos.  While the simple reading of the Pasuk is that “write on the new Luchos all the words that were on the first Luchos, that you broke, and you shall place them (the new Luchos) in the Aron,” the Gemara expounds the juxtaposition of the words “broke” and “you shall place them in the Aron” to include the first broken Luchos as well.  If the first Luchos were around and they too were meant to be housed by the Aron, why couldn’t the Aron be built before the second Luchos and still be complete in its holiness through housing the first Luchos?  Why couldn’t the first Luchos consummate the Aron?  

Perhaps it can be suggested that there is deep meaning in the Aron housing both the broken Luchos and the second Luchos, because the Torah values mourning the past and reviewing mistakes but it also values moving forward and rebuilding.  These almost conflicting values are the team that enables Jewish survival throughout centuries of challenges, because the Jews leave “Jerusalem” and tenaciously rebuild time and time again in all the “Babylons” of the world, sometimes in ways that seem superior even to Jerusalem, and yet, they never thought Babylon was a new Jerusalem.  And when individuals or groups in the Jews thought of a Babylon to be a new Jerusalem, they were taught powerful and decisive lessons that left the future of the Jews confident that they must rebuild permanently, but in a place that was temporary.  But with both these value at play, Judaism values the living more than the dead, always placing primacy on the future of Torah education even though it pales in comparison to past generations.  All “second luchos” will represent some sort of reduction from the perfection of the Godly “first luchos” of the past, but when the first luchos break, their letters of Torah return to Heaven and we are left with shards.  Significant shards, but blank and empty shards nonetheless, and there is so inherent value to those shards unless they become tools of inspiration and instruction for rebuilding another set of Luchos.  In order to satisfy the contingency that the Aron was consummated only with by housing the luchos, only the second living luchos would suffice, because only they held the future of Torah education.  There was value to the first luchos as well, but only in terms of how they teamed together with the second luchos to provide context and perspective for the rebuilding process.  

Wed, June 7 2023 18 Sivan 5783