Relationships of any sort, to be meaningful and effective, must be reciprocal. This is obviously true in a relationship between husband and wife. And it’s true in a relationship between parent and children. Parents give so much to their children, and at a certain time in the relationship, the children begin to give back so much to the parents.
Throughout Tanach, we see relationships that fail when there isn’t a certain reciprocity.
When Adam and Chava are placed in the Garden of Eden, and they are passive in their relationship with God – they have no requirements – the relationship really fails.
Adam and Chava are banished from the Garden of Eden, and only then do they play an active role, a meaningful role, a strong role, in a relationship with God.
In fact, we’re told on the first Saturday night that Adam and Eve are outside of the Garden of Eden, they actually – with God – they create fire [Pesachim 54a].
And that is also true about reciprocity in a relationship between God and the Jewish people.
When God gives the Jewish people the first set of Luchot, our Rabbis tell us throughout the Midrashim, that God gives the Jewish people the Written and Oral Law together. [See Drasha 18 of the Beit haLevi, who elaborates on this point].
The role of the Jewish people is simply to be the receptacle of the Torah, but they really don’t play any role in developing the Torah.
And what happens to the first Luchot? What happens to this Torah, for which there is no Oral Tradition at all, and in which everything is written? That relationship fails.
When the Jewish people are passive, when there’s no engagement from their side in the relationship with God, that is a relationship that cannot work. And therefore, that set of Luchot are shattered [Exodus 32:19].
Those Luchot had a purpose. They demonstrate God’s interest in creating a covenant with the Jewish people and with all of society. But they fail because they cannot endure if etched within the covenant, the Jewish people are not a partner in the relationship and are not active.
And in this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, when we are told about the second Luchot, the Torah is very clear about what happens with the second writing by Moshe:
בעת ההוא אמר ה’ אלי פסל־לך שני־לוחת אבנים כראשנים…
God tells Moshe, ‘Write a second set of tablets that are like the first ones…’ [Deuteronomy 10:1]
They’re not exactly the same; they’re “ka-rishonim”, like the first ones.
And the text continues:
ואכתוב על הלוחות את הדברים אשר היו על הלוחות הראשונים אשר שיברת
And what does Moshe communicate?
‘I wrote on the second set of Tablets the messages that were found on the first Tablets when they were broken.’
Meaning, when there was a bifurcation between the Oral and the Written Tradition; when there was no longer this idea that God would give the Jewish people both the Oral and Written Torah together.
That the Jewish People would now be responsible for writing part of the Torah, and God would be responsible for writing part of the Torah.
That God would give the Jewish People the Written Torah, and it was the responsibility to communicate the messages of the Oral Tradition from generation to generation.
That every generation would build on the messages of the generation of the past, that now the Jewish People had a role.
That is the promise of the second Luchot, of the second Tablets: a new paradigm of the relationship between God and the Jewish people.
It highlights the responsibility that each and every one of us has, not only to internalize the messages of the Torah, but to have the courage, and more importantly, the knowledge, to be able to build the next floor on what Torah is all about.
Judaism can only survive, and more importantly, can only thrive and be eternal, when we have the knowledge and the courage to build the next step, the next floor, in our relationship to God, based on Torah principles.
A Judaism and a Torah that engages with modern challenges and makes Torah the eternal book that it continues to be.