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Who Engraved the Second Tablets?

Who Engraved the Second Tablets?

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© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

Question:

After G‑d forgave the people of Israel for the sin of the golden calf, we read in the first verse of Exodus 34, “The L‑rd said to Moses: ‘Hew for yourself two stone tablets . . . and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.’”

Later, we read in verse 28, “He was there with the L‑rd for forty days and forty nights . . . and He inscribed upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”

How can I reconcile these two verses? Who wrote them, G‑d or Moses?

Answer:

Very good question.

The commentators to verse 28 explain that the verse needs to be broken into two parts. In the first half of the verse, “he” refers to Moses. However, in the second half, where we read about the inscription, “He” (note the capital “H”) is a reference to G‑d.1

However, the question remains. Why is this verse written is such a way that it even appears as if Moses was the one who wrote the tablets, when in fact it was G‑d?

Rabbi Meir Simchah of Dvinsk (1843–1926) has a beautiful way of reconciling these verses.

The writing on the first tablets had been engraved through and through. As such, the words, written in Hebrew, were clearly legible on one side and equally visible on the other side as well. Therefore, the centers of the Hebrew letters mem ם and samech ס, which are closed from all sides, were miraculously suspended in midair.2

Rabbi Meir Simchah explains that the actual engraving of the second tablets was done by Moses. And after he had finished doing all that he could humanly do, G‑d completed the job and miraculously transformed the engraving into the special writing that had graced the first set of tablets.

Had Israel never sinned and the first tablets never been broken, all our learning would come easy, and there would be neither internal nor external challenges. However, our Torah study today, which entails hard work, constant review, and struggling to understand, is embodied by the second tablets.

When one toils in Torah study, he must first invest his all in an attempt to carve the words of the Torah into his very self, transforming himself into a spiritually sensitive person able to receive the secrets of the Torah. Then, and only then, does G‑d assist him and guide him to properly understand the Torah and shield him from distractions and confusion. This is symbolized by the fact that Moses first engraved the tablets to the best of his ability, and then G‑d added the miraculous element.3

Footnotes
1.

Ibn Ezra, Nachmanides, Rashbam, Rabbeinu Bechayei, et al.

2.

Talmud, Shabbat 104a.

3.

Meshech Chochmah ad loc.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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CSL Ohio February 13, 2014

Textual and Historical Lack of Support for Rabbi Meir Simcha's Explanation I would strongly agree with the comments of Murray Gewirtz. The second "He" is generally realized by theologians of many faiths to refer to G-d and not to Moses. Since Rabbi Meir Simcha apparently did not give any solid references for ancient support of his explanation, and since the text itself does not give support to the Rabbi's explanation, the most reasonable conclusion is to agree with those who believe that the second "He" refers to G-d. Reply

Bernard Gordon WPB FL February 12, 2014

Born & raised in Brooklyn NY ...find these writings most informative.
Am most grateful & thankful. /bg Reply

Anonymous virginia February 11, 2014

great lesson Reply

John Richards Toronto, Canada August 22, 2012

Same Content on Tablets Can you tell me if the exact same "law" that was inscribed on the first set of tablets remained on the second? It appears from verse 1 of Exodus 34 - exactly what was written on the first set, will now be placed on the second. Deuteronomy 5:22 again mentions that nothing was added. Are there any other supporting verses that confirm the same? Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org March 1, 2011

To Murray The tradition that the centers of those letters were miraculously suspended is found in the Talmud, Shabbat 104a. Reply

Murray Gewirtz Brooklyn, NY/ USA February 27, 2011

Engraving on the Luchot Tablets Rabbi Posner, you state that "Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk ... has a beautiful way of reconciling" the verses which seem to raise confusion as to whether Moshe or G-d engraved the Ten Commandments on the replacement tablets. His explanation involved letters inscribed by G-d which went from one side to the other of the tablets, so that "the centers of... 'mem' and 'samach,' which are closed from all sides, were miraculously suspended in midair." This raises the question as to how Rabbi Minsk could know this. Did he get it as a tradition passed down to him over many generations, or was it something that came to his mind as a possible explanation? For it is clearly wrong in its details. The Hebrew alphabet evolved over centuries to its present appearance. We know this from studying actual archeological samples. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet used in the time of Moses had no mem sofit, and the samach was not circular. Other letters were closed, e.g. the ayin. Even C.B. DeMille knew better. Reply

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