Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone
Contact Us
Visit us on Facebook

Why Did Moses Break the Tablets?

Why Did Moses Break the Tablets?

E-mail

Question:

Why did Moses break the tablets?

I heard that his reason was the Torah-mandated capital punishment for idolatry. If he would give the Torah to the Jews at this point, they would be condemned to death, so he instead broke the tablets to save the Jews. Is this correct? Are there other reasons too?

Answer:

The midrashim and various biblical commentaries suggest many reasons to explain Moses’ action. The following are a few of them:

1) The explanation which you wrote is indeed found in the Midrash. Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, quotes a similar explanation:1

This can be compared to a king who went abroad, and left his betrothed with the maidservants. Because of the immoral behavior of the maidservants, she acquired a bad reputation. Her “bridesman” (the person appointed to defend the bride should any problems arise) arose and tore up her marriage contract. He said, ‘If the king decides to kill her, I will say to him, “She is not yet your wife.”’

2) Another explanation quoted by Rashi2 is that Moses made the following calculation:

He said [to himself]: If [in regard to] the Passover sacrifice, which is [merely] one of the commandments, the Torah said: “No estranged one may partake of it”—[now that] the entire Torah is here [i.e., the Ten Commandments include the whole Torah], and all the Israelites are apostates, shall I give it to them?3

3) A classic explanation is that the tablets, two large sapphire stones, weighed too much to be possibly carried by a single human being; instead, the divinely etched letters engraved within them miraculously lightened them, enabling Moses to carry the tablets. When the letters “saw” the golden calf which the Jewish people had made, they were revolted and “flew” out of the tablets, back to their divine source—leaving Moses with a burden he could not bear, and which he therefore dropped.4

4) Others explain that Moses broke the tablets in order to discourage G‑d from implementing His plan to annihilate the Jewish people for their sin, and to recreate a new chosen nation from Moses and his descendants (see Exodus 32:10). Upon breaking the tablets, he told G‑d, “Now I am a sinner just like them. If You decide to eradicate them, destroy me as well.”5

For further insight on this topic, see Priceless National Treasures.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

FOOTNOTES
1.

Rashi on Exodus 34:1.

2.

Rashi on Exodus 32:19.

3.

This reason is taken from the Talmud, Shabbat 87a.

4.

Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5.

5.

Exodus Rabbah 41:1.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (21)
March 4, 2013
RE: What really caused Moses to become angry ?
Isaac, my guess is it might be impossible to get angry in the very presence of G-d.
On a side note, it almost feels as if Moshe didn't want to leave the mountain. The tablets must have already been done when G-d encouraged him to leave saying that the people had corrupted themselves. Just seems to me as if they were having a conversation, or just spending time there, even after the tablets had been done. So, who knows, maybe the tablets had already been ready after 30 days, and the other ten days Moshe stayed with G-d and when the situation got delicate down there, G-d told him to leave. Maybe this is also why G-d remained (relatively) calm.
katrin p.
Germany
March 4, 2013
According to the Chasam Sofer.
The Chasam Sofer asks why did Moses wait until he got down from the mountain to become angry. Surely it was God himself that told him that his people have gone astray.

It was because, Moshe was not worried about the people sinning, he had Torah in hand which would remedy the situation. But in fact there was only a small minority, about 3000 people involved, and the rest, about 597,000 (some say this was just the number of men) was just standing about doing absolutely nothing, i.e. they were not worshipping, nor were they preventing the others from worshipping the golden calf.

Moses became very angry upon seeing this, because he knew the Jewish people were not ready for this set of tablets written by the hand of God, which was on a higher level. Under the circumstances Moses therefore had decided to break the tablets.

Albert Einstein had said. The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
Isaac
Brooklyn
March 1, 2013
What really caused Moses to become angry ?
God had told Moses, "Go down from this mountain, for your people have corrupted themselves."

At this time he had not yet become angry. Only after coming down did he first become angry.

If it was due to the fact that seeing Jews worshipping a golden calf, why then did he not become angry upon first hearing it from God himself ?

It was not because he did not believe God, and wanted to see it for himself, no, this cannot be. It is therefore obvious there was something else which he saw that upset him.

So, can you tell me what it was ?
Isaac
Brooklyn
March 1, 2013
I've seen this situation happen a hundred times in front of my eyes, when he ran down the hill totally shocked, in panic, pale, with his mouth wide open. I believe that he was so shocked that he dropped the tablets. In the end, what were they worth if the peeps wouldn't even listen to the first commandment?

What I would like to know is this. After they had built the Arch, G-d said something along the lines of "You better don't break this one! If you break this one there won't be a second one..." (paraphrasing, as I don't know the Chumash too well). So somehow He opened up that can of worms again, and I wonder why?
katrin p.
germany
March 1, 2013
Why Moses broke the tablets.
I agree with Judith in Los Angeles:

"The Bible is clear why he broke them. God had told Moses of the golden calf when he was still in God's Presence, and Moses had pleaded on their behalf to save them-- from a number of interesting perspectives. But when he came down the mountain and saw the merriment, heard the singing, the craziness of the scene and their worshiping this idol of gold, he was infuriated -- just as God had been, and lost it. And threw down the tablets. they were clearly not worthy of this covenant. and that was before Aaron lied about his role and how the idol came to be. Can you blame him?
judith
los angeles"
Theo
Copenhagen, Denmark
February 28, 2013
Moses destroying the tablets
I like the explainations given in the four statements. I was always under the impression that Moses destroyed the tablets because he was so mortified by what he saw, he became angry and felt that the people were not worthy to receive G-d's Law.
Duane Linn
February 27, 2013
the natural and simple reason
Going by Moses' temperament - he killed an Egyptian in one shot, he hit the rock twice instead of just commanding it - we can say the most simple reason for the above query is that Moses, who was so close to God, imbibing all that God had in his mind for His people, was so upset to see his people indulging in idolatry that he found no purpose being served in giving it to them and hence broke them.

Yes, its like tearing apart a sheet of agreement because the terms are violated or not agreed upon...!
Abraham Jos
Bangalore, India
February 27, 2013
Thanks
I especially like #3 - the Torah was given to the People of Israel, not just to Moses, for him to share them!
Joe
Harrisburg, PA
February 27, 2013
Why did Moses break the tablets?
All these explanations overlook one very important fact, that is the Torah has in it a remedy for all sins.
Prayer, repentance, and charity pardons the iniquity of sin which can be learned from this very episode. Which is what the Jewish people did to save themselves from this harsh decree. So why Moses of all people would want to deny the Jewish people (whom he loved) of the one thing that can save them, i.e. the Torah. And without the Torah what use would God have for the Jewish people ? Which is to say, if Moses broke the tablets to keep the Torah from them, and by doing so was (God forbid) successful, then they would have certainly been destroyed, because denying God was the reason for the decree, and without the Torah they would have continued to worship idols. A lose lose scenario.
What should be looked into is why did Moses become angry enough to break the tablets in the first place, and then afterwards ask why break the tablets.
Isaac
Brooklyn
February 27, 2013
What if Moses wrote those commandments himself on these tablets and simply broke one in order to get attention and captivate the masses ? What a better way to make a splash and get the upper hands on commoners ? Through this action he positioned himself as the leader of them all ! This sounds more logic ! Apple company used this meme passed down throughout the years to sell its tablets computers to the masses & to lead the market !
Lipbalm
Show all comments
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG