Moshe Rabeinu recounts for us the awful events of the making of the golden calf, and the necessity to smash the luchot (tablets). Moshe subsequently prayed for us and pleaded with God to forgive us. In response, God forgave us and on the first day of the month that we now call Elul, God said to Moshe: “Carve out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to Me atop the mountain”
(Devarim 10:1). Moshe did so, and God “wrote on the tablets the same text as the first ones, the Ten Statements, that God spoke to [the Jewish people] on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the Day of Assembly” (Devarim 10:4).
The contrast between the first and second tablets is stark.
The first tablets were given to Moshe at the top of the mountain and they were “made by God and written by God with God’s script engraved on the tablets.” The second tablets were made by Moshe, brought up to the mountaintop by Moshe, but engraved by God with God’s words and God’s script. The rabbis of the Talmud contemplate the real differences that were manifest in our interaction with the first tablets (however brief an interaction it was) and the second tablets due to the differences between the two sets.
Still, it is fair to ponder and to ask: Which set of tablets were “better” in the grand scheme of things? The ones made by God alone that could not remain in a world that has a golden calf at the foot of the mountain, or the ones that God had us partner with Him to make and were placed in a wooden ark and housed in the center of the camp within the holy walls of the Ohel Moed (the Tent of Meeting) and the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), all of which was made by us?
Perhaps the answer to the question is: Yes.
Certainly, had we not lost our focus and determination, had we not sinned, we would have remained on the supremely high spiritual level that we attained as we stood at the foot of the mountain. We would have had in our midst the very handiwork of God. Alas, we did not. But in God’s infinite love and mercy, He gave us a path of prayer, and return and repentance. He gave us an opportunity to partner with Him, so to speak, and He said that if we do our part, He will do his, and together we will bring holiness and Godliness into the world.
To be sure, that can’t be on our terms, it has to be on God’s terms. It can’t be the myopic perspective and ideas of humankind — it has to be the eternal perspective and the eternal ideas taught by God. The words on the tablets have to be God’s words and God’s script, exactly as were the first tablets. Even the tablets that we fashion have to be “like the first ones” (Devarim 10:1). But He gives us the opportunity to be part of that process. What a special expression of God’s love.
As the first of Elul is almost upon us, let me wish everyone the blessing of a sweet, new year of life, and health and success. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to the holy work that there is to be done. We have an offer on the table from the Eternally Best Partner that there can be. pjc
Rabbi Wasserman is the rabbi of Shaare Torah Congregation and the president of Gesher HaChaim Jewish Burial Society. This column is a project of the Vaad HaRabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.