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A Matter of Precedence
The concluding verses of VeZos HaBerachah, the final section of the Torah, recount the achievements of Moshe Rabbeinu. The final verse reads: "And all the mighty hand and all the great awesome deeds that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel."

Commenting on the words "before the eyes of all Israel," Rashi notes: "That his heart emboldened him to break the Luchos before their eyes, as it is written,[1] '[and I took hold of the two tablets and threw them from my two hands] and I broke them before your eyes.' G-d concurred with his decision, as it is written,[2] '... the first tablets,] which you broke' -- 'I affirm your strength (yi'yashar kochacha) for having broken them.'"

What prompted Moshe to break the Luchos and why did G-d endorse his decision?

Earlier on,[3] Rashi explains Moshe's action with the following Midrashic metaphor:

Once there was a king who went off on a distant journey and left his bride with her maidservants. Because of the promiscuity of the maidservants, rumors began circulating about the king's bride. The king heard of these rumors and wished to kill her. When the bride's guardian heard of this he went ahead and tore up her marriage contract, saying: "Should the king say, 'My wife did such and such,' I shall respond, 'She's not your wife yet.'"

So, too, when G-d wished to destroy the Jewish people because of their involvement in the worship of the Golden Calf, Moshe smashed the tablets -- G-d's "wedding contract" with the Jewish people -- thereby dissolving the marriage-bond that they had allegedly violated. This left G-d no grounds on which to punish His "bride's" unfaithfulness.

There is a general principal that "One should conclude on a positive note," for "everything follows the conclusion." How does the Torah conclude with the breaking of the Luchos? While this action prevented punishment, nonetheless, the act itself surely does not do the Torah honor. Why conclude with an account of the devastation of Torah, rather than on a high note emphasizing the tremendous positive quality of Torah?

This will be understood by prefacing yet another Midrash:[46] "Two things preceded G-d's creation of the world -- Torah and Israel. However, I do not know which preceded which. But since the Torah states, 'Speak to the Children of Israel...,' 'Command the Children of Israel...,' etc., I know that Israel preceded all.

The above Midrash is in keeping with the saying of our Sages[5] that the entire world was created for the sake of two things, Torah and the Children of Israel.

Although it is clear that the world was created for the sake of these two entities, the question remains: which is the more deeply rooted within the divine consciousness, Torah or Israel. Does Israel exist so that the Torah may be implemented, or does the Torah exist to serve the Jew in the fulfillment of his mission and the realization of his relationship with G-d?

With the Midrashic statement that "Israel preceded all," it is clear that the ultimate intent is Israel, with the Torah being created for the sake of the Jewish people, that they may be able to fulfill their divine mission on this earth.

Thus, in a deeper sense, by breaking the Luchos, Moshe was teaching us that the purpose of Torah was to serve the Jewish people -- "Israel preceded all" -- rather than the other way around. Therefore, when it came to choosing between Moshe's beloved Torah as symbolized by the Luchos, and the future well being of the Jewish people, there really was no contest.

Not only does the Torah record that G-d endorsed Moshe's breading of the Luchos, it also chooses to make this its own culminating message. With its closing words the Torah establishes that it sees its own existence as secondary to the people of Israel.

Which is to say, that ultimately, when the Torah speaks of the breaking of the Luchos it is not speaking of its own destruction, but its preservation:

Since breaking the Luchos saved the Jewish people from destruction, it also saved the Torah itself from extinction, as the very concept of Torah is dependent upon there being a Jewish people who exist to live by its dictates.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIV, pp. 217-223.

     

Notes:  

1. Devarim 9:17.

2. Ibid. 9:2; Shemos 34:1.

3. Shemos 34:1.

4. Tanna d'Vei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 14; Bereishis Rabbah 1:4.

5. See Bereishis Rabbah ibid.; Bamidbar Rabbah 11:4.

   
 

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