The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Luchos: The Marriage Document

“It happened as he drew near the camp and saw the calf and the dances that Moshe’s anger flared up and he threw the tablets from his hands and he broke them at the foot of the mountain”
(Shemos 32:19)

The question is asked by this episode of the golden calf as to why Moshe broke the luchos. He seemed to have lost his temper and smashed the luchos out of anger; despite the sin of the people, is this the way a leader should act? Rashi justifies Moshe’s actions by bringing a gemora in Shabbos (87a) which says that since a heretic may not partake in the korban pesach which is one of the mitzvos, surely a nation of heretics can not receive the Torah.

The Midrash gives an interesting idea. Moshe realised the sin which had been committed by the Bnei Yisroel would face judgement from Hashem. Moshe therefore broke the luchos in the defence of the Bnei Yisroel as he could now protest that since the Bnei Yisroel had not physically received the laws then perhaps they don’t apply.

Another explanation is based on the Midrash that the letters of the luchos departed when Moshe saw the sin. This made them suddenly very heavy so Moshe could no longer carry them. Alternatively, as Rashbam says, Moshe became weak upon seeing the levels to which the Bnei Yisroel had sunk and he could no longer carry the luchos. Nevertheless, the question remains, why did Moshe only break the luchos when he saw the sin? Was the warning from Hashem (32:8) not enough?

Rabbi Twerski brings the Midrash which says that Moshe wanted to teach the Bnei Yisroel a lesson that no matter how trustworthy the witness, even Hashem, two witnesses are required to give testimony. Therefore, it was only when Moshe, acting as a second witness, saw the sin did he actually believe it.

After this point, the Torah relates that Moshe punished those who worshipped the calf without witnesses or a warning by grinding the gold of the calf and adding it to water and then force feeding the concoction to them. If they were guilty the water was poisonous, if not, it would pass through them normally. This form of justice is similar to that of the sotah, the woman suspected of adultery. The other sinners were killed by the sword or by plague. The question is asked, why was the form of justice chosen similar to that of the sotah?

The answer fits in with why Moshe broke the luchos. Many times throughout Tanach, the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People is compared to that of a husband and wife. The Midrash brings a parable of the newly married man who heard rumours that his wife was unfaithful. In order to ensure that the wife, if accused, would be judged as a single woman rather than a married one, for which the punishment is lighter, the marriage document was torn up. Here too, Moshe effectively tore up the marriage document, the luchos, in the hope that the sin of the Bnei Yisroel would seem lighter. Nevertheless, by the punishment, the Bnei Yisroel are still considered to be under contract with Hashem so their punishment is the same as that of the sotah; just as she is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband and is given the water of the sotah, so too, the people who were suspected of worshipping the idol but not witnessed doing so are punished in the same way.

By Ari Levy.

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