In the Torah portion of Eikev, Moshe recounts the passing of his brother Aharon immediately after recalling the breaking of the luchos, the tablets on which were engraved the Ten Commandments. Our Rabbis tell us1 that these two incidents are juxtaposed because “the demise of tzaddikim is as difficult for G‑d as the breaking of the luchos.”

(Moreover, when a tzaddik’s passing results from his infirmaries caused by his being exiled on account of his self-sacrificial service on behalf of the Jewish people, the “difficulty” is accentuated to an even greater degree.)

When the “Torah of Truth” states that two things are similar, it means they are akin in their entirety. Thus, the parallel between the demise of tzaddikim and the breaking of the luchos is not only that they are both extremely difficult for G‑d, but also that tzaddikim and the luchos are analogous.

Wherein lies the similarity?

With regard to the first luchos, the Torah states:2 “The luchos were the work of G‑d; their text was written by G‑d — engraved upon the luchos.” The tablets thus had two distinct attributes:

a) their very creation was the work of G‑d;3

b) the Divine text was engraved.

Notwithstanding the intrinsic sanctity of the luchos, we are told4 that after the sin of the Golden Calf, “Moshe looked at them and saw that the writing had disappeared. Thereupon he said: ‘How can I possibly give the Jewish people the luchos, seeing that they are [now] without substance? Rather, I shall grasp them and break them.’”

Moshe’s remark is bewildering, even troubling. Even after the writing on the luchos had disappeared, the tablets were still the work of G‑d. How could Moshe refer to them as being “without substance”?

As indicated in the verse, the text of the luchos was engraved into the tablets themselves. As such, the text became an integral part of the tablets’ substance, not something added as ink is added to paper. Hence, the engraving of the text had a profound impact on the actual luchos — the words becoming entirely one with them. In other words, the unity of the luchos and their text was so great that the true essence of the luchos was displaced by the text engraved within them.

Therefore, once the “writing had disappeared” — although the luchos were still a work of G‑d — they were “without substance,” for the true entity was the actual text, with its soul and spirit.

These qualities of the luchos have a corollary within each Jew.

Every Jew is a composite of body and soul. The Jew’s body is similar to the luchos, which were a work of G‑d, for even the body of a Jew possesses tremendous sanctity.5 The soul that was placed within the body is similar to the Divine writing engraved within the luchos. The unity of body and soul is thus similar to the unity of the writing and the tablets themselves:

As mentioned earlier, the luchos were an important entity unto themselves — “the work of G‑d” — even before the writing was engraved, for the tablets antedated the text. Still, once the Ten Commandments were engraved within them, they were elevated to such an extent that their totality was the “Divine writing.” So when the writing disappeared, they were considered to be “without substance.”

The same is true regarding the Jew. Although his body was created independently of his soul6 — and moreover its creation preceded the investiture of the soul within the body — it becomes truly one with the body once it is incarnated. The essential spiritual aspect of the soul then becomes the essential character of the body as well. Thus we say “the life of the tzaddik is not physical life, but spiritual life — belief, awe and love [of G‑d].”

This then is the similarity between the passing of tzaddikim and the breaking of the luchos. With the introduction of an even higher spiritual element — the soul; the Divine writing — both entities undergo a profound change, with spirituality becoming their entire essence.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIV, pp. 30-35.