Commentary for Ki Tissa

17 Mar

In this week’s parshah we read the story of the golden calf. Fearing Moses had abandoned them or died on Mount Sinai, the Israelites abandoned God and started to worship an idol that they built. When Moses returns, bearing the two tablet with the Ten Commandments written on them, and sees what the Israelites are doing, he throws the tablets to the ground, shattering them. After much pleading for the Israelites lives, both by the Israelites themselves and by Moses, God agrees to spare them, and orders Moses to carve two new tablets.


God’s exact command to Moses regarding carving the new tablets is as follows: “Carve two tablets of stone like the first, I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke (Ex. 34:1).” The Rabbis teach us that there are no extraneous words in the Torah. Each and every word is meant to teach us something. In this verse, the final phrase “which you broke” appears to be extraneous, as the rest of the verse (particularly the phrase “like the first”) makes it quite obvious that God is talking about the first set of tablets, so why does God feel the need to tell Moses that the tablets in question are the ones “which you broke?”

Moses’ breaking of the tablets was a knee-jerk reaction. He saw something that infuriated him, so, in his rage, he threw the things he was holding to the ground.


While surely we can find great symbolism in Moses’ action, the fact remains that that action was, in fact, a reaction, and an impulsive, angry one at that. . If Moses, the greatest of the prophets, can become so angry that he shatters the two tablets with the Ten Commandments on them, given to him directly by God, then there is no telling what we can say or do in a moment of anger. By reminding Moses that he was the one who broke the tablets, God is rebuking Moses- and warning us- that we are responsible for all of our own actions, even if they are knee-jerk reactions to outside provocation

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