Thursday, March 6, 2014

What's in a Name? (Part III) The Luchos and the Shivrei Luchos- A D'var Torah

From time to time, I will be writing about my reasons for choosing "Pesach Sheini" as the name for my blog. The more I have thought about the name, the more I have felt that it chose me and not the other way around. What follows is the second installation. To read the first two, click here and here.

For many, the parshiyos of Vayakhel and Pekudei seem superfluous. They wonder why, after discussing the mishkan and the role of the Kohen in parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh, the implementation of those two topics had to be repeated, and in painstaking detail to boot. Additionally, why is Betzalel re-introduced as the artisan who is given the job to build the mishkan, after already having been introduced in Ki Sisa? While one may simply suggest that he is re-introduced as the building is going to commence, I believe something deeper is going on here. What follows is an attempt to show that the “repetition” is anything but, and that it teaches a fundamental Jewish concept.

When Moshe ascends Har Sinai, he goes to get luchos, which are written by the “hand” of God. These miraculous tablets have, according to the midrash, letters that float. The angels ask God to not part with these luchos “which proceeded creation by 974 generations”. The midrash further suggests that Moshe could not absorb the Torah that he was taught and that God had to give it to him as gift, at the end of the 40 days. Finally, the luchos were made of a mysterious material that reminds one of heaven.

Additionally, Bnei Yisrael are able to reach the level of Adam HaRishon before the sin. The Torah, which after all is an Eitz Chaim, returns to them the potential for eternal life and knowledge. Of course, once they sin, they go back to their previous state.

Even stranger is how Chazal view Moshe’s breaking of the luchos. The letters float in the air back towards God. Chazal imagine God congratulating Moshe on breaking them, and even suggest that, as with Eitz Hada’as, the sin that led to them breaking, had to occur.

Not so, the second luchos. Those are crafted by Moshe and brought UP to Har Sinai. Although Chazal cryptically suggest that they were made with the “psoless” (chaff, as opposed to the unknowable Ikkar) of the first luchos, they are not miraculous. This time, the angels are silent and fail to protest.

Interestingly when the Aron is made, both the broken luchos and the second set go there (although not necessarily in the same place).

The story with the luchos is not the only story that seems to change. In Terumah one can certainly conclude that Moshe is to be the artisan who builds the mishkan and all that goes in it. In fact, Chazal seem to suggest this when they say that Moshe struggled to understand how to make the menorah out of a solid block of gold until he threw it into the fire, and the menorah emerged on its own (certainly suggesting a connection to the Golden Calf). When it is actually built, God says that it is Betzalel’s job to help create it. No impression is given to suggest that he struggled to do so.

The mephorshim debate when the commandment to build the mishkan was made. Some say it was before the sin of the golden calf, as the story appears in the Torah, while others suggest it came after the sin, to make amends. It is my contention that they are both correct, with the first commandment coming before, with the second commandment and the implementation coming after.

The initial commandment was given before the sin. The mishkan was to be built by Moshe, with the miraculous assistance of God. It was to host the perfect luchos, crafted by God. These represent the essence of God, which even Moshe can not grasp. The menorah as well, being made of a block of gold that is to remain whole and indivisible, also represents this unknowable perfection. If Moshe can not understand, no other person can do so. How can such a Torah, created when there was none but God (because how can there be generations, or even time, before the creation of physical matter?), be given to man, ask the angels. These luchos are thus smashed, indicating the inability of man to grasp the essence of God. The perfect mishkan is never actually built.

The second luchos represent man’s limited ability to understand God. They are not miraculous, and are produced by man, and brought up towards God. They are imperfect, representing only the limited amount that man can understand God. No need for the angels to protest luchos like these going to man. Indeed, they come from man. Moshe is able to grasp the Torah that they represent, as he is the human who comes closest to understanding God.

This also helps explain why Betzalel is re-introduced. At first he was chosen as Betzalel, the one who is in the “shadow of God” and knows how to “join the letters of creation”. He is to craft the mishkan, which will be a traveling Har Sinai, where man can encounter God. After the sin, the focus is on him as the grandson of Chur who, Chazal say, was killed when he tried to prevent the cheit haeigel. Just as the parah adumah is used to atone for the sin committed with “its mother”, Betzalel does the same with the sin committed against his grandfather. He is able to build the mishkan without difficulty, because this mishkan does not represent the perfect mikdash from above. It is only the limited one, built from below. It will contain gold which now reminds us of the sin. It will contain the broken luchos and the second set as well, reminding us that any understanding that we have of God and his Torah, can not be fully perfect. (While the reason for their absence from the Second Beis HaMikdash is beyond the scope of this essay, see Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky’s “Emes L’Yaakov” for a resolution of this question).

One may still ask, if Bnei Yisrael had to sin, why did it have to come through Aharon? If he is to be the Kohein Gadol, the one who can achieve atonement for Bnei Yisrael, he must truly understand the concepts of teshuva and kapparah. While before the sin he could understand these concepts intellectually, after the sin, he grasps them through experience as well.

The parsha (as well as the sefer known as Sefer HaGeulah) ends with the erecting of the mishkan. Paradoxically, the midrash teaches that no one but Moshe could do so. Why should this be? After all, his help is never needed again. Perhaps, we can suggest that the first time this mishkan is erected, it must be done by one who is free from the Cheit HaEigel. While those who were active in the commission of the sin have already been killed, the rest of Bnei Yisrael has committed a sin of omission (what Moshe terms a “chatah gedolah”), and are not guilt free. Finally, the Ananei HaKavod, which had disappeared after the sin, return (see The GRA for an explanation that connects this idea to Succos). God will no longer send an angel to lead them as he had said after the sin. He alone, kivyachol, will do so.

While the first Beis HaMikdash was built by Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men (who, despite his great intellect, still could not understand the reason for the parah adumah), it too was a man made and thus, inherently imperfect structure. We await the perfect Mikdash shel maalah, which will, suggest Chazal, descend complete, from heaven, and usher in a day when the knowledge of God will finally fill the earth.

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