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Failed Resolutions

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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Have you ever made a resolution you didn't keep?

Have you ever resolved to go to bed early only to wake up with a headache because you didn't put that book down? Have you ever resolved not to take a second helping, but walked away engorged because your portions were too numerous? Have you ever resolved to attend morning services, but chose instead to sleep in?

Do you feel guilty or at least frustrated? If the answer is yes then you can probably empathize with the way our ancestors felt after they worshiped the Golden Calf.

It was only forty  days earlier when they all saw G-d on the mountaintop and resolved to worship no other G-d, but Him. Now, forty days later, they failed their first significant test! Was their religion not important to them? Were their Jewish vows not meaningful enough to keep? They despaired of ever succeeding.

So despondent were they that G-d set about to console them.

Perplexing Stones

When Moses secured divine forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf G-d instructed him to carve out two tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments would be inscribed.1 Where did Moses find a quarry in the middle of the desert? The Midrash teaches that a quarry miraculously appeared beneath Moses' tent.2

The tablets, given to Moses in heaven, were not made of stone, but of spirituality. As Moses descended toward earth the tablets metamorphosed into physical stone
This Midrash prompts a number of questions:

1. Why didn't G-d provide the second set of tablets from Heaven just like He did the first? Why did He create them on earth and instruct Moses to carry them aloft?

2. The quarry provided stones which were the precise dimensions required for the tablets, but with rough exterior and jagged edges. If G-d made the stone in precise dimension to help Moses avoid the task of hewing the stone out of a large quarry, why did He not also give it a smooth surface to help Moses avoid the task of smoothing it down?


Letters and Stones

The Talmud teaches that the letters carved into the stone by G-d's hand were sacred. So sacred in fact, that when Moses descended the mountain for the first time and beheld the pagan spectacle of the golden calf, the tablets grow heavy in his arms.3

What made them grow heavy? The disappearance of the letters. The divine letters, too sacred to countenance the nation's betrayal of G-d, gathered themselves from the rock face and floated back to heaven. When the divine letters detached themselves from the tablets the stones grew heavy in Moses' arms.

The tablets, given to Moses in Heaven, were not made of stone, but of spirituality. As Moses descended toward earth the tablets metamorphosed into physical stone. The letters, however, did not change. They remained as holy as they were in Heaven. The letters could not countenance the nation's betrayal, though the stones could.

Body and Soul

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 10:1.
  • 2. Midrash Tanchumah, Ki Tisa, chapter 29.
  • 3. Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit, 4:5.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Desert Sojourn

Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.