Parashat Ki Tisa: Preserving the Eternal Bond
** This Week's Parasha Insight with Rabbi Eli Mansour Dedicated By Steven Levy & Chaby Orfali and Families In Loving Memory of Eliyahu Ben Sinbol **
Parashat Ki-Tisa tells the tragic story of Het Ha’egel – the sin of the golden calf. The people created and worshipped the calf while Moshe was still at the top of Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from G-d. Before Moshe came down from the mountaintop, G-d informed him about what the people the done, and Moshe begged G-d to rescind His decree to annihilate them. When Moshe returned to the people and saw them worshipping the golden calf, he threw down the stone tablets which bore G-d’s inscription of the commandments, shattering them into pieces.
Startlingly, this incident – Moshe’s shattering the stone tablets – is referred to again later in the Torah, when it expresses praise for Moshe Rabbenu. The final verse of the Torah describes the singular greatness of Moshe Rabbenu, noting the outstanding things that he did "Le’eneh Kol Yisrael" – "in the view of all Israel." Rashi explains that this refers to Moshe’s decision to break the Luhot (tablets).
We must wonder, of all the remarkable things which Moshe did, why is this incident chosen as the accomplishment for which he is to be primarily remembered? Why did the Torah want to leave us specifically with this "memory" of Moshe Rabbenu?
The answer emerges from a comment of the Gaon of Vilna (Lithuania, 1720-1797) in his Imreh Noam commentary to Masechet Berachot. He explains that the Luhot created by G-d were, in a sense, part of G-d Himself. As such, they represented the bond between G-d and Am Yisrael – like the wedding ring which a wife wears as a constant reminder of her bond to her husband. The Luhot’s presence in our midst signifies our relationship with G-d, just as the ring on the wife’s finger expresses their permanent bond of mutual love and devotion.
When Moshe later recalls the sin of the golden calf (Debarim 9:17), he says that before he threw down the tablets, "Va’etpos" – he "grabbed" them. At first glance, it seems difficult to understand what this means. Wasn’t Moshe already holding the Luhot? Why did he need to "grab" them? The Gaon explains that Moshe grabbed the Luhot away from G-d, as it were. G-d wanted to end His relationship with the people, and thus He sought to take back the Luhot. But Moshe refused to allow this to happen. He "grabbed" onto the Luhot, the symbol of Am Yisrael’s bond with Hashem, insisting that it continue despite the people’s grave sin.
Moshe shattered the tablets in order to frighten the people and make them aware of the gravity of their sin. However, as the Talmud teaches, even the "Shibreh Luhot" – the broken chards of the first set of tablets, were preserved and stored forever in the Aron along with the second, permanent set of tablets. This demonstrates the eternity of our bond with G-d, that although we might occasionally fall and act wrongly, and our relationship with Him is "shattered" because of our misdeeds, it can still be repaired and restored. This is why Moshe "grabbed" the tablets away from G-d – because even though they needed to be shattered, their presence among the nation would reflect their enduring bond with Hashem.
And thus the Torah’s final words of praise for Moshe refer to his shattering the Luhot. He refused to relinquish them, because he refused to allow the special bond between G-d and Am Yisrael to be permanently broken. He firmly believed that no matter what happens, Am Yisrael is always capable of picking up the pieces, of rebuilding and recovering from even the gravest failures, and in this way, Moshe ensured that our nation’s special relationship with Hashem will endure forever. Truly, this was Moshe’s greatest moment, the moment which demonstrated more than any other his unbridled commitment to Am Yisrael and to their everlasting connection to G-d.