"[Moses] remained there with G‑d for forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water; and [G‑d] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." (Ex. 34:28)

The Midrash brings a parable: A king loved his treasurer, so he said to him, "Measure for yourself gold coins." In his great joy, the treasurer did not want to eat or drink….So, too, while Moses was "measuring" Torah, he forgot and did not eat or drink.

How can a human being exist for forty days without food and drink? Similar to the above Midrash, Rambam (in the Guide for the Perplexed, 3:34) explains that this was a case of mind over matter. Moses was so entranced by the study of Torah that he was oblivious to his bodily needs. Other Midrashic texts offer other solutions, implying that his survival was supernatural: 1) he remained human, and his survival was a constant miracle; 2) Moses acclimated to the heavenly climate and did not need food - i.e. during his sojourn above, he was an angel.

These three interpretations all occurred, but at different times. Moses was on high for 120 days, three periods of 40. During the first 40, he received the first tablets. The first tablets were host to miraculous phenomenon: the engraved letters were readable from both sides and the middle of the samech, though detached from the stone from all sides, remained suspended in its place. Correspondingly, Moses' first 40-day-fast was a miracle, a constant suspension of his nature. The second tablets signify an internalized experience of divinity…

During his second sojourn, Moses pleaded with G‑d to forgive the Jews. This was a time of divine displeasure, not a hospitable climate for the miraculous. So, during this time, Moses did not experience any miracles, nor did he become an angel; he remained human and survived in a natural way, as explained by Rambam.

His final sojourn took place in a time of divine good will. During this period, Moses received the Second Tablets, which, although not as miraculous as the first, had the advantage that they would not be broken. Similarly, his fast was not as miraculous as the First Tablets. It was not a constant miracle, since his body had become so refined that he was like an angel, immune to hunger.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, and the two Tablets of Testimony were in Moses' hand as he descended from the mountain, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face had become radiant when [G‑d] had spoken to him. (Ibid. 34:29)

It was specifically after receiving the Second Tablets that Moses' face shone. The Second Tablets signify an internalized experience of divinity, one that cannot be undone. Therefore, although they were not as miraculous as the First Tablets, the Second Tablets were never broken.

Similarly, during Moses' last 40-day sojourn in heaven, when he received the Second Tablets, his body internalized the spirituality of heaven - he had become so refined that he was like an angel, immune to hunger. During his first sojourn, his lack of a need for food was a constant miracle, since he did not become heavenly. After receiving the Second Tablets - when he had not only been a guest in heaven, he had himself become heavenly - his physical body reflected this unearthly light.

Based on Sefer HaSichot 5748, vol. 1, p. 314; Likutei Sichot, vol. 36, pp. 172-9
Copyright 2001 Chabad of California/chumashproject@chabad.com