Friday, 19 August, 2016 - 1:30 pm


Before the Jews, G-d approached all the other nations and asked if they would like to accept the Torah. Each refused because of some commandment in the Bible to which they could not possibly adhere. When G-d presented the offer to the Jews, their sole question was: How much do you want for it? To which G-d responded: “It’s free.” The Jews replied, “Give us two.”

This week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, tells of The Ten Commandments, the Crown Jewel of Judaism. They are all-encompassing—within them all of the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, unequaled in their simplicity, solemnity, and comprehensiveness. They constitute the basis of civilization and human advancement.

Yet this ultimate declaration of Judaism was engraved on two tablets of stone. Is this not anti-climactic? One would think that such an unparalleled charge to the Jewish people would be transmitted on a more impressive medium. The Sanctuary was constructed of the most dazzling of jewels and fabrics. Even the Ark containing the two Tablets was made of lavish cedar wood. Yet what they contained inside—the Divine Ten Commandments—were just two stones. Why?

The answer to this is essential to our understanding of Judaism. While wood is the symbol of development, coming from the growing tree, stone remains fixed, permanent and impenetrable. The Ten Commandments, representing all of the Torah's laws, are “stone”—for their value, authenticity, and importance remain eternally relevant. Despite all the fluctuations of society over three millennia, the relevance of Torah and Mitzvot remains the same. Just as a “rock” retains the same power for thousands of years, and is not diminished or weakened, so the power of Torah does not change. However, those who hold on to the Torah, who turn themselves into “arks” who “carry” the tablets, they are like wood which continues to grow and develop. They actualize themselves as a result of that which they are carrying.

There is an interesting Midrash regarding the origins of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. These were not just two plain stones; these rocks were featured earlier in history—in Genesis. They were the stones used by Jacob when he went to sleep at night.

There is a profound message in this Midrash. If we examine the Ten Commandments engraved on the stones, we notice something fascinating: The five mitzvot on the first stone deal primarily with man’s relationship with his or her Creator; the second set of five, on the second stone, discusses relationships between humans.

When Jacob stopped to rest his head on the stones, he was on a journey to get married and build the first Jewish family. This was defining for Jewish destiny. The two stones Jacob chose—representing the two tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments—began to dispute which was more prominent. The stone containing the first five mitzvot proclaimed: I must be the primary focus of the Jewish moral and holy life. The second tablet argued, No! I am the key. To be a Jew means primarily to be kind, honest, and socially concerned—to be a mentch!

What did G-d do? He took the two stones and turned them into one stone. Jacob needed to discover that the two rocks were not really two—they were inseparable. They may have appeared to be two distinct realities, but in essence one cannot exist without the other. If you really love and respect G-d, then you respect and love every human being created in G-d’s image, and you love every Jew who is G-d’s child. You don’t love me and hate my children, even if you disagree with them. If you really believe in G-d then you know that G-d wants you to be ethical, kind, and sensitive.

Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik studied alongside one of the leading secular German moral ethicists prior to World War II. With the rise of the Nazis, he saw his colleague modify his arguments 180 degrees to justify the persecution of the “racially inferior”—to protect his position at the university. The Nazi era proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that “reason alone cannot be counted on to be reasonable, because reason can rationalize.” The first tablet of commandments between man and G-d is necessary to provide an anchor for the second set between man and man.

In "Schindler’s List," there is a scene of the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto where a little girl hiding in a piano is shot dead by an SS guard. As her little angelic body lay in a river of blood, another guard sat down to play.

First SS guard: Was ist das? Ist das Bach?

Second SS guard: Nein. Mozart.

First SS guard: Mozart?

Second SS guard: Ja. And they both marvel at the exquisite music. This was Nazi Germany at its best.
Elie Wiesel Of Blessed Memory, who gripped the world’s imagination with his book "Night," a personal testimony of life and death in Auschwitz, once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who himself lost many members of his family in the Holocaust, how he could believe in G-d after Auschwitz. If G-d existed, Wiesel asked, posing the single greatest challenge to faith, how could He ignore 6 million of His children being dehumanized and murdered in the cruelest of fashions?

The Rebbe replied, “In whom do you expect me to believe after Auschwitz? In man?”

Without G-d, moral relativism exists, where one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and one man’s mercy killing is another man’s murder. The principles between man and G-d must come first so that the Mitzvot between man and man can be fulfilled.

The Nazis prove what happens when you ignore the first tablet. Hamas and Islamic extremism proves what happens to a religion who preaches all day about Allah, but simply could not care less about human life, justice, truth, or decency.

From the two—now unified—stones of Jacob, the two tablets with the Ten Commandments were made. Both were given by the same G-d, at the same moment, to demonstrate their absolute oneness.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

Comments on: WHY TWO TABLETS?

Rachmael wrote...

Take 2 tablets and call me in the morning! :-)