His Hands our hands – Vayeilech
וְעַתָּה כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת וְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שִׂימָהּ בְּפִיהֶם לְמַעַן תִּהְיֶה לִּי הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת לְעֵד בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. (דברים לא, יט)
Toward the end of the parsha, we are commanded with a מצות עשה (ספר החינוך says it only applies to men) to write a Sefer Torah. Whether this mitzva is still applicable today, or it is replaced by writing (and/or studying?) other sifrei kodesh, is not the subject of this shiur. The reason I bring it as an introduction is very simple. In a few short days we will be standing before HKB”H on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Unlike Rosh Hashana, where Heaven resembles a “courtroom”, with the defense counsel and the prosecuting counsel in attendance and the books of life and death spread open before Hashem, on Yom Kippur, the prosecuting counsel is not allowed into the court. Yom Kippur is actually a day of enormous celebration (although we tend to be in a somber mood), as it is on this day that the בינוניים (the category in which most of us fall) have their sins forgiven and cleansed.
Forgiveness for our sins is the focus of the day, but on Yom Kippur we also celebrate another event, that has become “sidelined” by the enormity of the forgiveness aspect. On Yom Kippur, Am Yisrael received the second set of luchot.
I would like to delve a little into the differences between the first and second sets of luchot, a principle that is also connected to Akeidat Yitzchak, which we read on the second day of Rosh Hashana and amazingly also the famous machloket between Rashi and the Rambam – who will physically build the 3rd Beit Mikdash, HKB”H or us.
Let’s begin with the first set of luchot. The first time Moshe ascended Har Sinai he did “nothing”. He did not eat, he did not drink, he did not sleep, he had no part in the preparation of the luchot. All he did was soak up Torah, for forty days and forty nights – the entire תורה שבכתב and also תורה שבעל פה. Chazal say that for the entire 40 days and nights it went in one ear and came out the other. Moshe would learn it and forget it the next minute. Finally at the end, HKB”H gave it to Moshe as a “gift” and he remembered everything he heard (Nedarim 38a).
The luchot were made from a precious stone called סנפריון which some translate as sapphire. The dimensions of each of the square luchot were 6 X 6 tefachim (approx. 48cm X 48cm) and 3 tefachim thick (approx. 24cm). If one were to place the two luchot one above the other (as opposed to alongside each other) it would form a cube (Bava Batra 14a).
The familiar rounded-top shape of the luchot originates from the Zohar (Yitro 84, 2) that the luchot were in fact “condensation” of the Heavenly “dew” as it descended to earth (רמ"ק, אור החמה, אבן ישראל), which is based on the Gemara (Yerushalmi, Nedarim, 3, 2) that the square form did not exist in the six days of Creation (incidentally, this is a central theme in my assertion that the shape of the Lechem Hapanim was the curved “Sfina Rokedet” and not the square “Teiva Prutza”, Meir Panim, p. 131).
The writing on the luchot was אצבע א-לוקים, written by HKB”H Himself. According to Chazal the letters were engraved right through the luchot, from end to end, so they could be seen on every side. Letters like the samech and the mem sofit, which have a central piece, were miraculously suspended in midair. There is a machloket in the Gemara (Yerushalmi, Shkalim 16, 2) exactly how many and how the דברות were allocated and distributed between the two luchot, 5, 10, 20 or even 40 דברות on each luach.
As we know when Moshe saw Am Yisrael dancing around the עגל he broke the luchot. HKB”H did not tell him to do so and this is a whole sugya on its own, why Moshe actually broke them.
As stated above, on Yom Kippur HKB”H forgave Am Yisrael for חטא העגל and told Moshe to carve two new luchot. According to the Midrash (Vayikra Raba 32, 2) Hashem revealed to Moshe that beneath his tent was a quarry of סנפריון. Moshe took the stone and carved two new luchot with his own hands. HKB”H gave all the leftover shards of סנפריון to Moshe as a gift, which he gave to Oholiav to make into a necklace for Tzipporah (This was the origin of the machloket with Korach).
Seemingly this was the only difference between the first set of luchot and the second – that the luchot shniyot were carved by man, whereas the first were carved by Hashem. Aside from that, everything else was supposedly “identical”, the writing was done by HKB”H, as for the first luchot above, etc.
However Chazal and the Mefarshim say there were differences. The Midrash (Shmot Raba 46a), says that on the second luchot, in addition to the עשרת הדברות that were engraved on the luchot, in between them was engraved the entire תורה שבכתב and the תורה שבעל פה. This is volumes and volumes and the fact that it fitted into such a small space was also a miracle. The אבן עזרא (Shmot 34, 1) quotes רב סעדיה גאון saying that the second set of luchot were superior to the first and brings a list of features that made them superior. The אבן עזרא then harshly criticizes רס"ג for this perush.
The העמק דבר (Shmot 34) gives a very interesting perush that when the first luchot were given, they did not embody the power of “chiddush", they contained the absolute Torah with no possibility to be mechadesh any new chiddush. The second luchot, however, embodied the power of chiddush, that talmidei chachamim, using the י"ג מידות, the 13 principles of exegesis (קל וחומר, כלל ופרט etc. ) and סייעתא דשמיא could arrive at the absolute halacha and truth of the Torah. In fact the Gemara (Tmura 16a) says that following Moshe’s death Am Yisrael “forgot” 3000 halachot that he had taught them and that Otniel ben Knaz “relearned” them using the methods described above.
From the above, we see that, unlike the first set of luchot, which were given to us “on a plate”, as it were, the second set required our active toil in both their preparation and their application. The fact that the first set lasted a few short hours in this world, while the second have endured for 3335 years seems to indicate that this “active human initiative” element in the Torah is essential to its perpetuation.
We will now veer off to a different, but related, topic. We are all familiar with - the Akeida, we read it in the Torah on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashana. I would like to re-examine the Akeida from a different perspective, one I have not seen commented on by any of the Mefarshim, but that raises a glaring question.
The beginning of the perek (Breishit 22), describes how Avraham was commanded by HKB”H (as his tenth and final nisayon), to offer up his son Yitzchak as an Olah on one of the mountains which HKB”H would show him in the land of Moriah. The psukkim and the Mefarshim go into great detail about the preparation. Avraham woke early, cut down trees for wood (in case they got to Har Hamoriah and there would be no wood there). The psukkim describe how he prepared the knife (מאכלת) and the tools to make fire. How he concocted a whole ruse with Sarah that he was taking Yitzchak to Shem’s Yeshiva in Hevron. That he took Eliezer and Yishmael with him as part of this ruse. The psukkim go on to explain how Avraham and Yitzchak were in “sync” throughout (וילכו שניהם יחדיו), how the ס"מ tried to trip Avraham up repeatedly but failed. How Avraham built the mizbeach himself, while hiding Yitzchak in a box so that he should not be injured in any way and develop a מום.
Then we get to the nitty gritty. Avraham places the wood on top of the mizbeach, he ties up Yitzchak and places him on top of the wood, takes the knife and gets ready to slaughter him.
I just want to ask a simple question – “who said anything about tying Yitzchak up?” Hashem certainly didn’t tell Avraham to tie Yitzchak up, He told him to offer Yitzchak as an Olah. If you examine the halachot of Korban Olah (and shechita in general), nowhere does it say you have to tie the animal up before slaughtering it. In fact until the time of Yohanan Kohen Gadol in the 2nd Beit Mikdash, animals were never tied up before shechita. Yohanan Kohen Gadol instituted a takana to install טבעות on the floor of the azara to restrain the animals, to make shechita easier (Sota 48a), but this is not obligatory! Don’t you find it a little strange that this whole sugya is called Akeidat Yitzchak – the tying up (binding) of Yitzchak, when no command was given to tie him up?
What did Avraham use to tie Yitzchak up? Nobody knows – because it doesn’t say, anywhere! Avraham meticulously prepared all the components for the commandment – he cut the wood, he readied the knife, the fire … If the central purpose of the exercise was to tie Yitzchak up (Akeida!!!) why doesn’t the Torah (or Chazal, or any of the Mefarshim) tell us what was used to tie him up? The horns from the איל that was sacrificed in Yitzchak’s stead have tremendous symbolic significance (the shofar blown at Har Sinai and the shofar that will be blown in the time of Mashiach). In fact Chazal say that no part of the ram went unused – each tiny bit had some intricate symbolism. What about the “rope”, twine, leather or whatever was used to tie Yitzchak up? Doesn’t that have any significance? Didn’t that also survive for millennia and will one day be used for something momentous? What more symbolizes the Akeida, the “tying up” than the “rope” used to tie Yitzchak up?
The whole episode of Akeida is silent about the very title of the Akeida itself! And the question is what is going on here?
The only elaboration of the actual Akeida, the binding, is in the Tanchuma (22, 23), in Targum Yonatan (22, 9) and in slightly more detail in Vayikra Raba (30, 10). Avraham tied Yitzchak’s hands behind his back and also his feet and then tied his hands to his feet and placed him face down on the wood. However the initiative to do so came from Yitzchak! Yitzchak said to Avraham “Tie me up well so that I will not kick you by mistake and will then be חייב מיתה”.
Can you imagine that? Avraham is just about to cut Yitzchak’s throat with the knife and all Yitzchak is worried that he will accidentally do something to his father that he will be חייב מיתה!?”
From these Midrashim it now becomes clear why Avraham did not prepare anything special to tie Yitzchak up with, it was not part of his original plan. Had it been, it would most likely have been prepared with the same meticulous dedication as the wood, the knife and the fire. The tying up part was not something commanded by HKB”H, it was a surprise initiative of Yitzchak! The cord, rope etc. or whatever was used in the end to tie him up, has no symbolic significance, like the shofarot of the ram, because the significance of it was not the material, but the initiative. In fact the entire episode was subsequently named because of that initiative. It is remembered for all eternity as Akeidat Yitzchak, the tying up of Yitzchak – because Yitzchak asked his father to tie him so that he would not unintentionally kick him!
What we clearly have here is two dimensions - corresponding to the two sets of luchot.
You have the Divine commandment from HKB”H to offer Yitzchak as an Olah, a pure, Heavenly dictate, one which Avraham meticulously followed and was prepared to fulfill to the letter, with no deviation or interpretation. In fact a major part of his “battle of will” was refraining from engaging in any type of interpretation. The ס"מ repeatedly tried to deceive Avraham with different “interpretations” and Avraham shut them all out.
You then have the introduction of a second element, “active human initiative” and interpretation. HKB”H did not tell Avraham to tie Yitzchak up. Yitzchak read the situation and made his own “chiddush”. “If I accidentally and unintentionally kick my father, I will be חייב מיתה and then if Avraham kills me, it will no longer be as an Olah Temima as HKB”H intends, but simply executing the death sentence required by halacha (מכה אביו ואמו מות יומת). Because of this “active human initiative”, Yitzchak was ensuring that the absolute purity of the Heavenly dictate would remain intact. Avraham saw that Yitzchak was not attempting in any way to stop the ceremony, quite the opposite – he was in total sync with Avraham the entire way. But Yitzchak had thought of a facet that Avraham had not thought of. HKB”H did not command Avraham to hide Yitzchak in a box until the Akeida either to prevent him incurring a מום - that was Avraham’s “chiddush”. And now Yitzchak added a “chiddush” of his own, all for the purpose of glorifying the commandment of HKB”H. This selfless act of Yitzchak transformed the nisayon of Avraham to becoming a nisayon of both Avraham and Yitzchak. After the Akeida Avraham asks Hashem to promise that there will be no further nisyonot – for him and Yitzchak.
We do not remember this episode as “Avraham’s Total Devotion to Hashem” or “The Miracle of the Ram in the Bush”, or “The Silencing of the Prosecuting Angel”. The fact that this episode has forever become known as Akeidat Yitzchak, attests to the fact that it was this “active human initiative” of Yitzchak which is at the heart of the matter and, although all the other aspects were also groundbreaking, what endures is - Akeidat Yitzchak - the fact that Yitzchak was “mechadesh” something in this mitzva that was not in the original commandment …… and that Avraham accepted and embraced this chiddush.
The principle of the Akeida is central to the Torah! It is one of the mainstays of our emunah and serves as an everlasting “protection mechanism” for Am Yisrael in time of need.
As we now see, there is a repeated motif, common to both the Akeida and Matan Torah. This motif combines a symbiotic duality. There is on the one hand an “absolute truth”, an absolute commandment from Hashem, an absolute set of luchot. On the other hand there is an element of “active human initiative”, an enhancement (hiddur) to HKB”H’s commandment, an interactive set of luchot.
It is not for nothing that the three mitzvot that dominate this week’s parsha are –
Mitzvot 1 and 2 are exactly like the two complementary sets of luchot.
Hakhel is passive. All you have to do is show up and listen, you don’t even have to understand what you are hearing – even infants were required to be there! Just like Moshe “showed up” the first round for 40 days and nights and did nothing but listen.
Writing your own Sefer Torah is the diametric opposite of passive, it is “active human initiative”. In order to be able to write a Sefer Torah, you have to prepare the klaf, study the halachot of sofrut, purify yourself, etc. You have to write the Sefer Torah letter by letter and when it is done, you have to constantly use it to study from.
In this imperfect world, being handed the “absolute truth” on a plate is insufficient, ineffective and transient. In order to achieve tikkun olam we have to become active participants in the “absolute truth”, we have to make it a part of us and ourselves a part of it.
The “glue” that binds the two together is given in the 3rd mitzva. There is a machloket in Bava Batra (14b) beween R’ Meir and R’ Yehuda whether the Sefer Torah was placed inside the Aron Habrit, alongside the luchot or outside the Aron, adjacent to it. From the principle in this shiur it is clear that inside the Aron makes more sense.
Thus in the Aron you have the remains of the 1st set of luchot, the 2nd set of whole luchot and the Sefer Torah, all together as one integral unit.
This important principle and motif repeats throughout the Torah. Another example is the machloket “Who will build the 3rd Beit Hamikdash?” As you know there are two main shitot. According to Rashi (Sukkah 41a), the 3rd Mikdash will descend “ready-made” by Hashem, as it says in Shirat Hayam מקדש ה' כוננו ידיך, we will not have to lift a finger. According to the Rambam it is a מצות עשה for us to physically build the Mikdash.
So who is right?
As per the above, they both are. You can’t have one without the other. There has to be an “absolute Mikdash” and in addition the “active human initiative” element is vital to its enduring. This is what David Hamelech said in Tehilim (122, 3) יְרוּשָׁלִַם הַבְּנוּיָה כְּעִיר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה לָּהּ יַחְדָּו. The Heavenly Mikdash (that Shlomo called אפרסמון) will be umbillically connected to the earthly Mikdash (that Shlomo called אפריון).
Unfortunately today there is a prevalent view that we have no business studying about the Mikdash and preparing for it, because “What is the point – it is going to descend from Heaven ready-made!” The whole seder of Kodshim is therefore mostly “sidelined” in academia, in yeshivot (with one notable exception – Brisk). The majority of others “frown” on studying Kodshim, preferring to devote all their energy to the study of sugyot and sdarim that have “practical” application today, like Ktubot, Nezikin, etc.
The fact that I intensively study and research the Lechem Hapanim, for example is a distinct “oddity” in the Torah world. Most people are only truly open and receptive to hearing about it when we get to read parshat Truma in shul, or during the 9 Days before Tisha Be’Av.
It is my firm belief that this is why we have not yet merited the rebuilding of the 3rd Mikdash, because we know so little about it, because we don’t bother to invest the time studying it, because most current Torah authorities do not view it as essential reading matter.
Every time I try to approach the authorities regarding this, I hit a brick wall (you just need to read the haskamot to sefer Meir Panim to see this). I have resigned myself to the fact that the only way to change this is to begin a grassroots movement, one person at a time (see my shiur on Nitzavim) and change things from the bottom up. The fact that you are reading this shiur means that you are already part of this grassroots “movement”.
As we approach Yom Kippur in a few days’ time, ask HKB”H for forgiveness for our sins and celebrate receiving the second set of luchot, let us fully understand the principle of His Hands כוננו ידיך and our hands ומעשה ידנו כוננהו and how they affect every facet of Yiddishkeit and apply them in our lives and start תשפ"ג with more “active human initiative”, making the Torah an integral part of our lives and making ourselves an integral part of the Torah.