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?


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