LET'S TAKE IT FROM THE TOP
Yitzchak James Saltz
In this week's Torah portion, Moses spent forty days and forty nights receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Jewish people, waiting expectantly for Moses' return on the 40th day, miscalculated in their counting and made the grave error of being a few hours off.
In this week's Torah portion, Moses spent forty days and forty nights receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Jewish people, waiting expectantly for Moses' return on the 40th day, miscalculated in their counting and made the grave error of being a few hours off. When the Jewish people completed their count of the 40th day, Moses was still on the summit of Mt. Sinai and the Jewish people were left without a leader (see Yoel Spotts' article in this week's issue). They assumed that Moses had died for he had spent forty days without any food or drink. They got so scared that they erected a Golden Calf and committed perhaps the most shocking sin in all of human history. When Moses descended from the mountain, he saw the Jewish people joyously serving an idol, and he proceeded to smash the tablets.
As always, Moses was looking out for the best interests of the Children of Israel and he prayed to Hashem, begging that He forgive them for this disgraceful iniquity. Hashem told Moses that he would give him a second set of tablets and asked Moses to climb back to the top of Mt. Sinai to receive them. The Torah states, "He remained there with Hashem for forty days and forty nights" (Exodus 34:28). An interesting question arises. If Moses already received the Torah, why did he have to stay on the mountain for another forty days and nights the second time? Did he need to learn it all over again?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a foremost leader of American Jewry who passed away in the mid 1980's, answers the question with the following explanation. Moses was not a prophet simply because he deserved to be one. He was a prophet for and because of the Jewish people. Before Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, the Jewish people were on a very high level of spirituality, and it was therefore easy for Moses to receive the Torah from Hashem. But once the Jewish people committed the dreadful sin of the Golden Calf, they dropped exponentially in spirituality. This fall affected Moses too as he was the prophet representing them. Hashem could not simply give Moses two new tablets and send him on his way. Moses couldn't just walk up to the customer service desk in the heavens and ask for an even exchange. Hashem had to teach Moses the entire Torah anew. Because the Jewish people were no longer on their lofty ethereal plateau, it was more difficult for Moses to comprehend the deeper concepts and subtle nuances which the Torah has to offer.
Yitzchak James Saltz, who hails from Valdosta, Georgia, is currently an eighth grader at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.
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