“When [G‑d] finished speaking with [Moses] on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two Tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of G‑d. . . When [Moses] saw the calf... he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them. . . G‑d said to Moses, ‘Hew two tablets for yourself like the first ones...’”

-Ki Tissa 31:1, 32:19, 34:1

The sequence of events by which Israel received the Tablets of Testimony followed three stages: (1) The first tablets Moses descended with from the mountain; (2) Moses broke these first tablets because of the people’s sin with the golden calf; and (3) when Israel repented of its sin, Moses ascended Mount Sinai again and returned with the second tablets.

The first tablets were both made and engraved by G‑d Himself. The second ones were also engraved by G‑d but carved out by Moses, suggesting a lesser quality than the first ones. Nonetheless, the second tablets had an advantage over the first ones in context of the principle that “descent is for the purpose of ascent.” That is, when one realizes the fact of a descent or degradation and corrects its causes, this itself causes an ascent to a level even higher and greater than the original one. A simple analogy is the case of a runner who takes a few steps backward in order to pick up extra speed for his race.

It follows, then, that the second tablets had a unique advantage over the first ones. The great depth to which Israel had fallen by the sin of the golden calf-which had provoked Moses to shatter the tablets-was the impetus for Israel’s subsequent rise to great spirituality, far transcending anything they had achieved in the past. Indeed, it was particularly with the second tablets (which represent the essence of the “Written Torah”) that Moses also received the “Oral Torah.”

This order of events reflects the history of the Jewish people:

First there was an era of manifest G‑dliness. This is the period from the time of the giving of the Torah up to the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem). This era corresponds to the quality of the first tablets.

Israel’s sins caused the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the subsequent galut, the exile of Israel from the Holy Land and its dispersion throughout the world. This period of the present galut, a terrible era marked by both physical suffering and a tremendous degradation and loss of spirituality, corresponds to the breaking of the tablets.

The third and final stage, which follows as a result of the galut-period, will be when the Jewish people will merit the greatest spiritual elevation that will last forever and comes about with the ultimate and complete redemption by Moshiach, speedily in our days.