To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.
The difference between them was that the sanctity of Mount Sinai was momentary, while that of the tabernacle was permanent (at least until the Temple was built centuries later). The revelation at Sinai was an “awakening from above.” It was initiated by G-d. So overwhelming was it that the people said to Moses, “Let G-d not speak to us any more, for if He does, we will die” (20:16). By contrast, the tabernacle involved human labor. The Israelites made it; they prepared the structured space the Divine presence would eventually fill. Forty days after the revelation at Sinai, the Israelites made the Golden Calf. But after constructing the sanctuary they made no more idols – at least until they entered the land. That is the difference between the things that are done for us and the things we have a share in doing ourselves. The former change us for a moment, the latter for a lifetime.
There was one other difference between the first tablets and the second. According to tradition, when Moses was given the first tablets, he was given only Torah shebiktav, the Written Torah. At the time of the second tablets, he was given Torah she-be’al peh, the Oral Torah, as well: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘G-d made a covenant with Israel only for the sake of the Oral Law,’ as it says: “For by the mouth of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (34:27).
The difference between the Written and Oral Torahs is profound. The first is the word of G-d, with no human contribution. The second is a partnership: the word of G-d as interpreted by the mind of man. The following are two of several remarkable passages to this effect:
Rabbi Judah said in the name of Shmuel: Three thousand traditional laws were forgotten during the period of mourning for Moses. They said to Joshua: “Ask” (through ruach hakodesh, the holy spirit). Joshua replied, “It is not in heaven.” They said to Samuel, “Ask.” He replied, “These are the commandments – implying that no prophet has the right to introduce anything new” (Temurah 16a). “If a thousand prophets of the stature of Elijah and Elisha were to give one interpretation of a verse, and one thousand and one sages were to offer a different interpretation, we follow the majority: the law is in accordance with the thousand-and-one sages and not in accordance with the thousand prophets” (Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishneh, Introduction).
Any attempt to reduce the Oral Torah to the Written – by relying on prophecy or Divine communication – mistakes its essential nature as the collaborative partnership between G-d and man, where revelation meets interpretation. Thus, the difference between the two precisely mirrors that between the first and second tablets. The first were Divine, the second the result of Divine-human collaboration. This helps us understand a glorious ambiguity. The Torah says that at Sinai the Israelites heard a “great voice.” Two contradictory interpretations are given about this. One reads it as “a great voice that was never heard again,” the other as “a great voice that did not cease” (i.e. a voice that was always heard again). Both are true. The first refers to the Written Torah, given once and never to be repeated. The second applies to the Oral Torah, whose study has never ceased.
It also helps us understand why it was only after the second tablets, not the first, that “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of Testimony in his hands, he was unaware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with G-d” (34:29). Receiving the first tablets, Moses was passive. Therefore, nothing in him changed. For the second, he was active. He had a share in the making. He carved the stone on which the words were to be engraved. That is why he became a different person. His face shone.
In Judaism, the natural is greater than the supernatural in the sense that an “awakening from below” is more powerful in transforming us, and longer-lasting in its effects, than is an “awakening from above.” That was why the second tablets survived intact while the first did not. Divine intervention changes nature, but it is human initiative – our approach to G-d – that changes us.
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Yitzchak thought the Jewish people needed dual leadership: Eisav the physical; Yaakov the spiritual
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the nature of the month of Kislev is sleep.
Though braggarts come across as conceited, their boasting often reflects a low sense of self-regard
Leaders must always pay attention to the importance of timing.
While our leaders have been shepherds, the vast majority of the Children of Israel were farmers.
Maimonides himself walked and prayed in the permissible areas when he visited Eretz Yisrael in 1165
If a man dies childless, the Torah commands the deceased’s brother to marry his brother’s widow in a ceremony known as yibum, or to perform a special form of divorce ceremony with her known as chalitzah.
Dovid turned to the other people sitting at his table. “I’m revoking my hefker of the Chumash,” he announced. “I want to keep it.”
‘When Unworthy, One’s Number Of Years Is Reduced’
Question: My young daughter was recently diagnosed with autism. She does not function well socially and is extremely introverted, but we have noticed that she reacts very well to small animals. We reported this to her therapist who suggested that we get a dog or cat as a pet. We know that most religious people frown upon having pets, but we hate to see our daughter suffer and want to do anything that would make her happy. Would it be okay to own a pet in the circumstances we described?
Her Loving Parents
Ramban interprets Korban as self-sacrifice, each Jew should attempt to recreate Akeidas Yitzchak.
Dr. Schwartz had no other alternatives up his sleeve. He suggested my mother go home and think about what she wanted to do.
Why does Lavan’s speaking before his father show that he was wicked? Disrespectful, yes. Rude, certainly. But a rasha?
When Jacob was chosen, Esau was not rejected; G-d does not reject.
God wanted to establish the principle that children are not the property of their parents.
The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit
The emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is a most distinctive features of Jewish thought.
Sukkot’s duality is that it’s the most universalistic and the most particularistic of all festivals
When we cry from the heart, someone listens; When we cry on Yom Kippur, God hears us.
So we work, but one day in seven we also rest and spend more time than usual with family and friends. In shul we reestablish our links with the community. Through the festivals we relive the history of our people, and cure ourselves of the narrow sense of living for the moment. On Rosh Hashanah […]
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/the-two-awakenings/2013/02/27/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: