Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

‘Congratulations! You’ve broken them!’

Even little children know that G-d offered to give the Holy Torah to all of the other nations, each of whom rejected it, because of its contents. Only klal Yisroel accepted the Torah unconditionally, even enthusiastically, responding, “Na’aseh v’nishma,” we will do and we will hear! This fearless and famous statement is treated frequently in the writings of our Sages, who justifiably recount it as a source of great merit and pride for the Jewish people.

But according to R. Meier, we seduced G-d[1] when we declared na’aseh v’nishmah: “Not even one day were they with G-d; [after that], they were [already] calculating how to make the calf.”[2]. Shemot 42:6. Yes, we accepted the ten Ateras HaDibros unconditionally. But the possibility that obedience to these ten commandments would entail obedience to six hundred and thirteen corollary commandments, governing even the most mundane of life’s daily activities, probably never crossed our minds. And if it did, we might even have thought it to be just another form of slavery, albeit with a different, more benevolent, and all-powerful master. No wonder we fled Sinai like children when the recess bell is rung! (R. Ephraim Nisenbaum).

Hashem expected this. He planned for it. That’s why when He freed us, He led us across a sea and into a trackless desert. Turning back to Egypt – appealing as some of us may have found this prospect to be – was not an option. The people were utterly dependent upon Hashem for everything. Hashem provided the manna for our food, the well of Miriam for our water. He sheltered us from the scorching sun with the Clouds of Glory, and led us through the midbar (wilderness) with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.

Moshe Rabbeinu was all too conscious of the slave mentality in which the people had become enmeshed after so many years of subjugation. And he knew that some of us, perhaps many of us, would mistakenly regard him as just another Egyptian-trained sorcerer, the human author and source of Hashem’s many miracles.

These two facts made Moshe Rabbeinu profoundly uncomfortable and, time and time again, he admonished us: “this is what the L-rd has done for you.” But did we believe him? Did we understand that it was Hashem who had done these miracles for us? Or did we attribute these miracles to some eldritch magic performed by Moshe Rabbeinu, himself?

Sadly, the latter. The Torah states: “When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: ‘Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don’t know what has become of him.'” Shemot 32:1. About this, G-d observes. “They have quickly turned away from the path that I have commanded them; they have made themselves a molten calf! And they have prostrated themselves before it, slaughtered sacrifices to it, and said: ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who have brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ ” G-d’s outrage is here palpable.

Both Ha’amek Davar and Meshech Chochmah point out that the climax of G-d’s indictment is what the people have, not what they did. Their mental life is at the heart of the matter… The heart is the theater of betrayal.” Our Sages compare this outrageous behavior to a faithless woman who is making eyes at a man in the audience, even as she is standing beneath the chuppah with her chosson, at her own wedding.[3]

So, what did Moshe do? He destroyed the marriage contract – he smashed the first luchot (tablets). For it is better that we be judged by G-d as faithless but unmarried, since the penalty for adultery is death.

Of all the many, many meritorious actions ascribed to him, it is this which is Moshe’s boldest, most selfless and meritorious act. So meritorious is this act, so selfless and brave, that Hashem, Himself, calls out to Moshe: “Congratulatons! You’ve broken them!”[4]

Maybe that is part of the reason why Moshe Rabbeinu was not permitted to actually lead us into the land of promise, for we might have attempted, in that case, to deify him, chas v’shalom! And idolatry – after all Hashem has done for us – would’ve been a much greater and perhaps unforgivable, sin.


[1] See Tehillim 78:36, “They seduced G-d with their mouths but their hearts were not attuned to Him.”)

[2] Not maliciously, but having the best of intentions born of high emotions. But we had only a child’s understanding of what G-d would require of us.

[3] Shabbat 88b.

[4] Talmud, Eruvin see Rashi on Talmud, Shabbat 87a.

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