The Five Tragedies
Rabbi Israel Chait—Tisha B’Av 2007
Transcribed by a student
Maimonides discusses the luchos. He refers to Unkelos’ literal understanding of the “finger of God”: “Upon finishing speaking with him on Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the two tablets (luchos) of the treaty, stone tablets inscribed through the finger of God” (Exod. 31:18). Maimonides questions Unkelos:
[Unkelos held] the [finger] was an instrument created by God, which by His will engraved the writing on the tables. I cannot see why Onkelos preferred this explanation. It would have been more reasonable to say, “written by the word of the Lord,” in imitation of the verse, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made.” Or was the creation of the writing on the tables more difficult than the creation of the stars in the spheres? [that only here was an instrument required] (Guide, book I chap lxvi)
What is the significance of the use or no use of an instrument? The second luchos were created by an instrument as God told Moshe “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered” (Exod. 34:1). So unlike the first set, the second set were created through an instrument. But the first set were made through a natural act of creation (Avos 5:6). Apparently, the first set that were Maaseh Bereishis meant something. It meant that the nation of Israel could accept upon themselves God and Torah (mikabale malchus shamayim) through the study of creation. It was a broad acceptance through seeing His creation.
Originally the Jews were to accept God through Maaseh Bereishis. But due to the sin of the Gold Calf they were no longer fit for that. They were then reduced to accepting God as the one who gave man Torah, no longer able to accept God through Maaseh Bereishis. It was an inferior acceptance. Moses broke the first tablets indicating the loss of accepting God as creator.
That's why Maimonides these insists that the first luchos were Maaseh Bereishis. The second luchos were an acceptance of God as an instructor, but not as the creator.
Now the Jews would be recognizing God is the giver of Torah, but ultimately they were to recognize God through the creation. This is why the fragments of the first set were placed in the ark, to convey that the ultimate objective is seeing God as creator.
The luchos were placed in the ark, and the ark was in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. What is the essence of temple/tabernacle? Ramban says the main part of temple is the place for the resting of God’s Shechinah, which is the ark: “And I will meet you there from on top of the kaporess (the ark’s cover)” (Exod. 25:22). This is the primary place of temple’s sanctity.
This explains something else, a significant point: Yalkut Shimoni says when Moshe received the command to create the temple, Moshe was confused. He didn't understand the command. Why? Because he said the same thing King Solomon said: “The heavens and the heavens of heavens cannot contain you, certainly [not] this temple!” (Kings 1, 8:27). God replied to Moshe: “It is not as you think. I will speak to you from between the two cherubs on top of the ark. I will contract (mitzamtzame) My shechina. Do you think that I will occupy space? That's impossible.” The temple cannot contain God, as the rabbis say, “God is the place of the world and the world is not His place” (Pesikta Rabbati 21:1).
What is meant by, “My shechina will be between the two cherubs?” Samuel II 6:2 says:
וַיָּ֣קׇם ׀ וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ דָּוִ֗ד וְכׇל־הָעָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִתּ֔וֹ מִֽבַּעֲלֵ֖י יְהוּדָ֑ה לְהַעֲל֣וֹת מִשָּׁ֗ם אֵ֚ת אֲר֣וֹן ה’אֲשֶׁר־נִקְרָ֣א שֵׁ֗ם שֵׁ֣ם הֹ’ צְבָא֛וֹת יֹשֵׁ֥ב הַכְּרֻבִ֖ים עָלָֽיו
Rashi says, “The Ark is called a name, and what is the name? The name of Adonoy of Hosts was upon it.” The ark was involved in the name. Because the “name of God Lord of hosts dwelling over the cherubs” is on it. That's how the ark is involved with the name. Chronicles has an identical quote as above. This means that there is a name of God in the temple that is not in a written form. But it is produced by the phenomena of the “dwelling” of the shechina between the two cherubs. [That “dwelling” is] the phenomenon of the prophecy that Moshe received from between the two cherubs, that place is called “the name of God.” That place has kedushas hashame. It is not that God is dwelling there, but it is the name, the shame Hashem. That’s Ramban’s meaning.
This means the same as the midrash where God replies to Moshe: “Shall I contract My shechina? Not like you think that it is inside the tabernacle, but in an even smaller place, in between the two cherubs.” God told Moshe, “There I will meet with you, and I will speak to you—from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark” (Exod. 25:22). “Contracting” of His Shechinah means that God appears to us through tabernacle and temple as the source of Torah. That is a contraction, tzimtzum. We have the right to relate to God as the one who dwells over the cherubs. Normally there’s no reality to God “dwelling over the cherubs.” But since the Jews can’t relate to God through Maaseh Bereishis—creation—God said, “I will be known as the source of Torah.” It's enough for a person to relate to God as the source of Torah, even though we cannot deny that God is the “place of the world”—Creator. That’s the sanctity of temple, kedushas mikdash, the source of Torah.
There is a difference between the two sets of tablets. Through understanding God through his Torah—the second tablets—one will eventually understand God through the creation—the first tablets. This is why the fragments of the first tablets are placed along side the second tablets in the ark.
We started out asking why the breaking of the first tablets did not form grounds to establish a fast day. Breaking the tablets would be grounds, but only if it meant that man no longer realized God through creation. הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם מְֽסַפְּרִ֥ים כְּבֹֽוד־אֵ֑ל וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דָ֗יו מַגִּ֥יד הָרָקִֽיעַ (Psalms 19:2) Regarding Abraham, Torah says וַיִּטַּ֥ע אֶ֖שֶׁל בִּבְאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיִּ֨קְרָא־שָׁ֔ם בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה אֵ֥ל עֹולָֽם (Gen. 21:33). Abraham taught people about God through the creation. Therefore, the breaking of the first tablets which remove man from knowledge of God via creation did not generate a fast. This is because there was still a way back to that knowledge of God through creation. That pathway back was the “name of God that dwelled above the cherubs” (knowledge of God through Torah). But once the temple was destroyed, then the vehicle of knowledge God was completely obliterated, and a fast day was established. That was the ultimate loss of the first tablets.