Torah Weekly

For the week ending 23 August 2008 / 22 Av 5768

Parshat Ekev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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If Bnei Yisrael carefully observe even those "minor" mitzvot that are usually "trampled" underfoot, Moshe promises them that they will be the most blessed of the nations of earth. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that they will conquer Eretz Canaan little by little, so that the land will not be overrun by wild animals in the hiatus before Bnei Yisrael are able to organize and settle the whole land. After again warning Bnei Yisrael to burn all carved idols of Canaanite gods, Moshe stresses that the Torah is indivisible and not open to partial observance. Moshe describes the Land of Israel as a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a land of oil-yielding olives and date-honey. Moshe cautions Bnei Yisrael not to become haughty and think that their success in Eretz Yisrael is a result of their own powers or vigor; rather, it was Hashem who gave them wealth and success. Nor did Hashem drive out the Canaanites because of Bnei Yisrael's righteousness, but rather because of the sins of the Canaanites, for the road from Sinai had been a catalogue of large and small sins and rebellions against Hashem and Moshe. Moshe details the events after Hashem spoke the 10 Commandments at Sinai, culminating in his bringing down the second set of Tablets on Yom Kippur. Aharon's passing is recorded as is the elevation of the levi'im to Hashem's ministers. Moshe points out that the 70 souls who went down to Egypt have now become like the stars of the heaven in abundance. After specifying the great virtues of the Land of Israel, Moshe speaks the second paragraph of the Shema, conceptualizing the blessings that accompany keeping mitzvot and the curse that results from non-observance.


The Ink Of Eternity

“Carve for yourself two stone Tablets like the first ones.” (10:1)

Michaelangelo may have known a thing or two about painting, but when it came to Jewish anatomy he was a bit off. When he painted Moses he gave him little horns. Michaelangelo’s problem came from a mistranslation of the Hebrew word keren. It’s true that keren does mean a ‘horn,’ but it also means a ray of light. The English word corona, meaning a glowing halo, is probably a derivation of keren.

How did Moshe get his ‘horns’?

After the Jewish People heard the Ten Commandments at Sinai, Moshe ascended the mountain on the 7th of Sivan to receive the rest of the Torah. He came down on the 17th of Tammuz and was greeted by the sight of the golden calf. Moshe smashed the two tablets of the Torah to the ground.

These first tablets were made by G-d and were engraved by G-d. They contained all of the Torah: the gemaras and the agaditas etc., everything that was necessary to carry out The Maker’s instructions. For example, the first tablets included all the details of how to make tefillin: they had to be perfectly square black boxes made from the hide of a kosher animal. Similarly, it was on these two tablets that G-d inscribed all the minutiae of the laws of Shabbat. However, when G-d gave Moshe the second tablets they only contained the Written Torah. The detailed instructions, the Oral Torah, was given to him verbally.

After G-d forgave the Jewish People their infidelity with the golden calf, Moshe ascended the mountain again on the first of Elul to receive the second tablets. He came down 40 days later, on Yom Kippur. When the Children of Israel saw Moshe, his face was shining with a radiant corona.

Why didn’t Moshe’s face shine before?

The Midrash says that when Moshe had finished writing the Torah, some of the ink that was left over in his pen touched his face, and that’s where the radiance came from. However, the Torah itself says the rays of light came from speaking to G-d. But Moshe spoke to G-d many times before. Why only now did his face become luminescent?

And which was the real cause of the aura? The ink in the pen or speaking to G-d?

One would think that the second giving of the Torah was a second-class affair. After all, the first tablets were written by G-d on rock hewn by G-d, whereas the second tablets were the work of man, and only the writing was Divine.

It sounds like the first giving was on higher level, doesn’t it?

Really the reverse is true. When G-d first gave the Torah, the Jewish People were to be the vessel that would contain the Torah. Like the Holy Ark, we would hold the Torah but we would not be part of the Torah, just as a box only contains what is inside it. It’s not the thing itself.

But with the second tablets, the Jewish People became part of the Torah itself.

The beams that came from the ink that was left in the pen of Moshe was the Oral Torah. G-d put into the mind of Moshe Rabeinu — the rabbi, the teacher of Israel — the Oral Torah. All the verbal instructions that were originally written on the first Tablets were now engraved in the mind of Moshe. Everything that is possible for a mortal understanding to attain was written in the mind of Moshe. The ink of eternity in the pen of Moshe was one and the same as G‑d talking to him.

Thus, the Jewish People became partners in the Torah. We became the parchment on which G-d wrote with the ink of eternity.

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