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What is the significance of the Ten Commandments being engraved on stone tablets?

by Rabbi Baruch E. Erdstein, Nechama Dina Kumer

  

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1. At the Heart of the Stone...

Jewish tradition teaches that at the commencement of the giving of the Ten Commandments, the G-dly revelation was so intense that after experiencing the overwhelming sounds and sights the souls of the Jewish People actually left their bodies. If so, what was the need for stone tablets, so physical in nature, after such profound revelations?

As is known, our task in this world is to demonstrate the unity between Creator and Creation. This is not accomplished by way of abandoning the physical world in favor of what some mistakenly call "the spiritual." In particular, the Torah (which is expressed in a general way via the Ten Commandments) includes lofty spiritual wisdom about the nature of G-d and Creation as well as laws which apply to the most mundane aspects of our daily corporeal lives.

The fulfillment of G-d's commandments rectifies all of Creation, especially the lowest, most physical realms. Among the archetypal categories of physical creations, including human, animal, plant, and inanimate (i.e. mineral), the latter is the most rudimentary, the least refined. This is one reason why the Commandments were chosen to be delivered specifically via the medium of stone tablets – lest we forget that their ultimate purpose is the rectification of this physical world and our humble service within it.

When G-d gave us the Torah, His goal was for us to be completely unified with it—and thereby unified with Him
2. ...Is the Jewish Soul

The letters of a Torah scroll are written with ink on parchment. Though the ink and parchment unite, they are two distinct entities—paper and ink—and such a letter can be erased. However, a letter engraved in stone is not only entirely unified with the stone, such a letter has no existence of its own. The letters are formed from, and within, the stone itself. The only reality is that of the object upon which the letters are engraved.

[With the tablets, the letters were engraved all the way through the stone to the opposite side. Miraculously, the stone 'holes' in the middle of the Hebrew letters samech and mem sofit (imagine a graven letter 'O') did not fall out; they remained suspended in mid air. The tablets defied the laws of space, and therefore, time as well.]

The graven letters being totally unified with the tablets demonstrates that the Torah (which is hinted to in its entirety within the Ten Commandments) is one with G-d, inseparable from Him. When G-d gave us the Torah, His goal was for us to be completely unified with it—and thereby unified with Him. A person's mind can delve into his study material, or his limb can perform a certain action, but he remains a distinct entity from that study or action. The tablets teach that the goal is to become one with the Torah in all aspects of our life; to be completely one with the Torah, and thus be totally united with G-d.

Our aim is to unify our entire life with G-d's Torah. Yet the essential unity already pre-exists. The Torah is intrinsically engraved upon every Jewish soul. Dust may settle and cover part of the graven letter, but it never ceases to exist, it cannot be erased like ink. After some spiritual 'dusting' the letter will reappear. The soul's connection to Torah also supercedes the limitations of time and space, as did the tablets' letters. Wherever or whenever a soul lives, the bond to the Torah is constant and eternal.

The engraving of the Torah upon our souls is due to the tremendous love that G-d has for us—since we are engraved within G-d, part of His Essence. The connection between Jewish souls and G-d is even superior to that of the Torah and G-d. This is demonstrated by the fact that the tablets' stone preceded the engraved letters. The stone corresponds to the Jewish soul, and the graven letters to the Torah. Though Torah is engraved within us, our souls precede the Torah. The souls' Source in G-d is higher still.


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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.