VeZos HaBeracha 5778

Sometimes the basis of the Torah comes through its annulment[1]

ולא-קם נביא עוד בישראל כמשה אשר ידעו יקוק פנים אל פנים: לכל-האותות והמופתים אשר שלחו יקוק לעשות בארץ מצרים לפרעה ולכל-עבדיו וכל-ארצו: ולכל היד החזקה ולכל המורא הגדול אשר עשה משה לעיני כל ישראל
No prophet arose in Israel like Moshe, who knew Hashem face to face. [As shown by] all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to perform in Egypt to Pharaoh, all of his servants, and his entire land, [and all] the mighty hand, as well as all the great astonishments that Moshe performed before the eyes of all of Israel[2]

The conclusion of the Torah describes the uniqueness of the prophecy of Moshe, as well as all the amazing feats that he performed in his life. The last words, לעיני כל ישראל, before the eyes of all of Israel, are understood by Chazal[3] to be hinting to the breaking of the two tablets after the sin of the Golden Calf[4]. Upon witnessing the Jews worship the idol they had made, Moshe took the tablets which contained the Ten Commandments, which he had received directly from Hashem, and smashed them on the ground. The Jews witnessed this dramatic reaction of their leader, and immediately halted their idol worship. One would have expected the Torah to end on a more positive note[5]. The incident of the Golden Calf was one of the lowest points in the Jews’ history in the wilderness. Why did the Torah end with a hint to the breaking of the tablets?

A possible reason can be gleaned by looking at the smashing of the tablets with a different perspective. What this incident really shows is the greatness of Moshe, and how he was able to intuit the Will of Hashem. The gemarra cites[6] three cases where Moshe did something of his own volition, which in the end was approved by Hashem. One of these was the breaking of the tablets[7]. Moshe wasn’t commanded to do so, but he felt the Jews had lost their right to the Torah. He in fact made a derasha, a derivation, using a kal vachomer, an a fortiori argument: If the Torah says regarding just one mitzvah, namely the mitzvah of korban Pesach, the Passover offering, that it is forbidden to an apostate[8], all the more so the entire Torah should be withheld from the Jews, who had accepted upon themselves a foreign deity. Hashem told Moshe yishar kochacha that you broke the tablets. This was in fact what Hashem wanted him to do. How was Moshe able to figure this out on his own?

It’s clear that it’s because the Divine Presence always rested with Moshe. Everything he did was following Hashem’s Will. It was always before his eyes, guiding his every move. He clung so strongly to the Divine that he was able to intuit Hashem’s Will without even being commanded[9]. This is why the Torah concluded with a hint to the smashing of the tablets. Moshe intuiting the Will of the Divine wasn’t an isolated incident. He consistently spoke to Hashem face to face, something no other prophet had done or will do. He was so in tune to Hashem’s Will that he was able to faithfully transmit the entire Torah, as dictated by Hashem. The Torah’s conclusion is to attest to the integrity of the Torah that we’ve been given, by praising the one who gave it over.

This approach also explains a surprising statement that the gemarra makes. It says[10] that sometimes the basis of the Torah comes through its annulment. At face value, it sounds like an annulment of the Torah is a good thing. But that can’t be what the gemarra is saying. The gemarra is referencing the smashing of the tablets. Although at the time it appeared like Moshe had denied the Jews the Torah forever, in reality his act showed his true prowess. He was able to intuit the Will of the Divine, and was therefore the worthy messenger of His Torah. The basis of the integrity of the Torah was shown through Moshe smashing the tablets.

Another approach to this statement is based on the fact that, as explained above, Moshe used a derasha to decide to smash the tablets. Derashos are always associated with Torah sheb’al peh, the Oral Torah. Many of the laws of the Torah are derived using derashos. The Oral Torah is in fact the basis of the Torah sheb’kesav, the Written Torah. What the gemarra means is Moshe’s annulment of the Torah, his smashing of the tablets, came from Torah sheb’al peh. It demonstrated the basis of the Written Torah, which was the Oral Torah. It also taught that the Oral Torah can even override the Written Torah[11]. These lessons are another reason why the Torah ended with a reference to the smashing of the tablets[12]. We needed to be taught the power of the Oral Torah.

With that we finish the Chumash, and get to start anew this Shabbos with parshas Bereishis!                               Chag Sameach and Good Shabbos.

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Deuteronomy 34:10-12 and 34:12

[2] Deuteronomy 34:10-12

[3] Rashi ad. loc., quoting Sifrei 357:45

[4] Exodus 32:19; see also Deuteronomy 9:17

[5] The Be’er Yosef takes this question a step further and points out that there were many negative consequences for the Jews because the tablets were broken. Eruvin 54a points out if the tablets hadn’t been smashed, no Jew would have forgotten something they had learned, and no nation could have had dominion over the Jewish people. Shemos Rabbah 41:7 also lists there would have been freedom from exile, death, and all of life’s difficulties

[6] Shabbos 87a; Yevamos 62a

[7] The other two were adding an extra day of preparation before the giving of the Torah, and Moshe separating from his wife to facilitate his prophecy. The Be’er Yosef points out that the smashing of the tablets is the most significant, as the other two were either a one-time occurrence or a personal matter. This is unlike the tablets which affected all the Jews for the rest of time

[8] Exodus 12:43. See Targum Onkelos ad. loc.

[9] This approach also explains an issue with the gemarros in Shabbos and Yevamos loc. cit. They explained that the three things Moshe did on his own came from derashos, derivations either using a kal vachomer or a hekesh, a juxtaposition between terms or phrases. Tosafos ad. loc. explain that these derashos were not full-fledged derashos. If they were, these actions would not be considered Moshe’s own idea, but rather coming from the Torah itself. Tosafos explain how each one has a flaw which prevents it from being a full-fledged derasha. However, if this is the case, why does the gemarra tell us that Moshe derived these ideas? They’re not real derashos… In reality, whenever a derasha has some refutation to it, all that does is leave us with a doubt as to whether the Torah is really teaching us this law or not. This does not however mean that the refutation is correct; it could be that the derasha is in fact true. Moshe, due to his ability to intuit the Will of the Divine, knew that in fact these derashos were real. On their own they can’t be used, since they had some refutation. However, that did not prove that they were wrong. Moshe knew they weren’t, and that’s why he applied them

[10] Menachos 99b

[11] Since the tablets represented the Written Torah. There are many examples where the literal words of the Torah are ignored because a derasha says to. See Yevamos 24a and Sotah 16a for some, one of which is the Torah says to cover the blood of a slaughtered animal specifically with dust (Leviticus 17:13), yet the halacha is that anything will suffice. The Be’er Yosef follows this with a lengthy piece showing another way that the Torah sheb’al peh overrides the Written Torah. The Chachamim in the first Mishnah in Shas (Berachos 1:1) hold that even though according to the Torah one could recite Shema all night, one should do so before Midnight. This is because they were afraid that if a person tarries they might miss the time to say Shema, and therefore made a protective fence to the Torah. The Be’er Yosef shows that according to some authorities (Rabbeinu Yonah, and according to the Bach Orach Chaim § 235 and Sha’agas Aryeh Dinei Kriyas Shema § 4, the Rambam and Semag) those Chachamim made their fence so strong that they made it so that there is no mitzvah to recite Shema after Midnight. Even though according to the Torah, one who recites it then fulfills a mitzvah, the Chachamim took it away. While the halacha is not like this and if one fails to recite Shema before Midnight they could still do so afterwards, this discussion again shows the power of the Oral Law. Rabbinic enactments and safeguards also are part of the Oral Torah, and they can even override the Written Torah. The Be’er Yosef writes that this could also explain why Rebbe chose to start Shas with the laws of reciting Shema, to demonstrate the power and prominence of the Oral Torah

[12] It’s also an explanation why the Torah begins with the phrase בראשית ברא אלקים. You can’t even read the first word of the Torah without the Torah sheb’al peh. As Rashi ad. loc. points out, the phrase screams to be darshoned, since when taken literally it’s incomprehensible. It was written that way to teach over many ideas (again see Rashi ad. loc.). However, it was also written that way to emphasize the importance and prominence of the Torah sheb’al peh

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