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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Ki Sisah, Shemos 32:19. The Breaking of the Luchos.

I originally published this in 07.  I am now refining and re-posting what I've done in the past and incorporating good comments, besides posting new Divrei Torah.  This particular post didn't have any good comments.

In Pesachim 87b last line, Avos D’Rav Nassan 2, the Ramban from the Medrash (9:11) and Rabbeinu Bachaye on 32:16 it says that when the letters flew off, the luchos became too heavy to carry, or Moshe Rabbeinu realized that there would be no point in giving blank luchos to Klal Yisroel, and only then did he throw them down. Whatever it was, it says “היו האותיות פורחות,” the letters flew off of the luchos and floated in the air.

Chazal tell us that the letters of the Torah were engraved into the luchos. See Rashi here 32:15 D"H Charus. See also Gittin 20a Tosfos d’h “L’memra.” Engraving means that the letters existed only as an area of removed stone surrounded by unremoved stone.

This raises a difficult conceptual problem. If the letters were engraved, what does it mean that the letters flew off? Even if we were to say that the openings in the stones closed up, what was there to fly off? An empty space? Later, in 34:29, Chazal say that the קרני אור, the beams of light that emanated from Moshe Rabbeinu's face, were from the leftover ink in the pen, which Hashem placed on Moshe's face. Apparently, by the second Luchos, something was written with ink, though it is not clear what that was; see the Netziv there and various medrashim that say not like the Netziv. But in the luchos rishonos, there is nothing to discuss: there was no ink. The luchos were engraved. And an empty space cannot be porei’ach anywhere.

Maybe pshat is that they were engraved and the engraving was filled with ink. (hereinafter Teretz #1, also suggested by the Korban Ha'eidah in the Yerushalmi, Taanis 23a) If so, we have to understand what the point of double writing is. Also, this would mean that there are two possibilities: that the ink flew off and the engraving stayed on the stone, or that the ink flew off and the engraving closed up also. (The Gemara in Gittin seeks proof that engraving is a legally valid form of writing for a Get or a Sefer Torah, and Tosfos asks that the Gemora should have proven that to be the case from the luchos. Teretz #1 would answer Tosfos’ kashe. On the other hand, the fact that Tosfos doesn't suggest this answer indicates that he didn’t think this was the case.)

A better pshat (hereinafter Teretz #2) : usually when you engrave, you create the image by removing stone. Here, on the other hand, the luchos were engraved by inserting letters. Torah is Light (Torah Orah), and, as the Ramchal is always saying, it is true supernal light, so we can say that Hashem took the letters of the Torah, and by putting them on the stone, the earthly substance of the stone receded. The letters were intangible and spiritual, but when Hashem inserted them into the luchos, the stone moved and the letters were enclosed within the stone. So when the Luchos came within the tchum of the Eigel, the letters of Torah that had been inserted flew off, and the stone flowed back to its original position, it regained its original contour. This is what the Gemora in Psachim means by “chazru l’mata’asan,” the Luchos reverted to their original state.

Here's a way of looking at it.  If you take clay and push your finger into it, while your finger is there there are two things: a hole in the clay, and your finger.  If you take out your finger, the hole remains and your finger is elsewhere.  Here, too, Hashem inserted the letters of the Torah.  When the letters flew away, the hole they made remained there.  Reb Chaim Brown was kind enough to direct me to the Alshich, who says explicitly that the letters of the first luchos were the same letters used to make the second luchos.

Now: the Gemara in Beitzah and the Yerushalmi talk about the letters that completely enclose a space, like Samach.  The Bavli says that, for example, the middle of the Mem was suspended miraculously, because the carved sides left nothing to support the middle.  According to Teretz #2, the pshat is that the letter was there.  It wasn't simple Chok Ye'reichos, it was a letter that took up the space, and that letter supported the middle of the Samach.  I'll bet that when the letters flew away, the middles of the Samachs all fell down.  (Moshe Eisenberg's he'ara in 2010.)

Maybe the kashe doesn’t begin, because (hereinafter Teretz #3) even though the letters were formed by engraving into the stone, once they were there they had the kedusha that is inherent in the letters of Torah, so when the engraving on the stones was smoothed out, it was that kedusha that was floating in the air. In fact, the second teretz, that the letters were engraved by means of inserting the letter, and the third teretz, that once the letters were engraved they had kedusha, are not too different.  (It could be said that this pshat is implicit in the Maharsha in Pesachim 87b.)

In any case, there are two lessons to be derived from this discussion. The mussar haskeil of this Gemara is that kedusha is never destroyed. Just like in the story of the martyrdom of Rav Chanina ben Tradion, who said, as he was burned along with a sefer Torah, "gvilin nisrofin v’osios porchos ba’avir", although a physical repository of kedusha is destroyed, the kedusha that it held is eternal, and remains forever inviolate. His physical body was being destroyed, but his neshomo is eternal. Here, too, the osios may have closed up, but the kedushas haluchos is eternal and has a roshem that cannot be damaged at all. The kedushas ha’osios was, and still is, porei’ach ba’avir.

The second lesson is that removal of a davar gashmi in the pursuit of ruchniyus does not merely leave an void. It creates an intangible but nonetheless real- maybe more real than its predecessor- spiritual space. For example, Mi ha'ish hechafetz chaim; not saying lashon hara is not merely a means of avoiding spiritual damage. It is called a sahm hachaim. Not saying lashon hara is not merely avoiding poison, it is the rejuvenating panacea of life.

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