Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 8 August 2020 / 18 Av 5780

Rupture and Repair

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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As part of the preparation to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe continues his review of the people’s sins, admonishing them to “remember and not forget” the instances of their disobedience. The sin of the golden calf — due to the nature of the sin (idol-worship), the public display it involved, and the timing immediately following the revelation at Sinai — was most prominent.

After reviewing his efforts to secure restoration of the special relationship that was lost, Moshe describes G-d’s command to him to prepare a second set of Tablets. This time, he was instructed to construct a wooden ark already in advance of the Tablets being delivered — an indication they would not be broken again, implying a Divine assurance: Despite the people’s imperfection, Israel’s calling would remain in effect and Israel would ultimately be the bearers of G-d’s Torah.

The remnants of the first Tablets would be stored in the same wooden ark as the new Tablets, which contained the same words that were on the first Tablets. This has profound significance. First, it expresses that G-d will not alter his Torah to accommodate the lapses of the people. The Torah doesn’t change — a ‘rewritten’ Torah contains the same words as the original Torah. There is no reform of Torah, only reform of the people to meet its standards.

Second, the placement of the broken Tablets alongside the intact ones serves as a constant memorial of the sin of our betrayal. A generation can stand tall only if that reminder is present and if restoration to former glory is achieved — the restoration being the return to the same exact Torah, etched on the second Tablets.

Moshe’s entire speech to the people reminding them of their misdeeds was intended to achieve this purpose: repair is possible only when the rupture is held somewhere in the consciousness. As King David writes in Psalms (51:5): My sin is always before me. This, in addition to the knowledge that restoration is possible — but only on the same terms of the original relationship — was to guide the people as they began nationhood in the Land.

  • Source: Commentary, Devarim 10:1

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