The Gift of Torah”


by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Kee Tisah, the Torah reports that G-d gave Moses two stone Tablets of Testimony that were inscribed by the finger of G-d.

The verse in Exodus 31:18 states, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינַי שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת, לֻחֹת אֶבֶן כְּתֻבִים בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱ־לֹקִים . When G-d finished speaking to him [Moses] on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two Tablets of Testimony, stone tablets inscribed by the finger of G-d.

There is a dispute among the commentators regarding when the instructions to build the Tabernacle were given. Were they given before or after the Ten Commandments?   Rashi, citing the Talmud in Pesachim 6b, maintains that the instructions to build the Tabernacle were given after the Ten Commandments. According to Rashi’s calculations, Moses originally intended to deliver the Tablets on the 17th of Tammuz. When he saw the people joyously worshiping the Golden calf he broke the original Tablets. Moses then went up Mount Sinai and remained there for 2 -40 day periods. Thus, 80 days after the tablets had been broken, on Yom Kippur, G-d forgave the people. On the next day (11th of Tishrei) the people began collecting the materials for the Tabernacle, which was finally erected many months lateron the first day of Nissan.

The rabbis make two important exegetical observations. One is that the Torah states, וַיִּתֵּן אֶל מֹשֶׁה , that G-d “gave” Moshe the tablets. From this, the rabbis derive that the Torah was given as a gift. The theme of a gift is also reinforced from the word כְּכַלֹּתוֹ , written without a “vav,” implying that the Torah was like a gift that a groom gives to his bride, the kallah. 

The Midrash Tanchuma 18, states, that it would have been impossible for the mortal Moses to master the entire Torah in such a short time (during the original 40-day ascent) and therefore, G-d gave Moses the Torah as a gift. Rashi, interestingly, notes, this time from the Tanchuma 16, that just as a bride dresses up with 24 ornaments, so must a Torah scholar prepare himself for learning Torah by mastering all 24 books of the Bible.

The Talmud in Nedarim 38, also reports that Moses had a hard time mastering the Torah. Each time he began learning the Torah, he would learn and forget, until G-d gave it to him as a gift.  As the verse states (Exodus 31:18): “And G-d gave to Moses two Tablets of Testimony when He finished speaking to him on Mount Sinai.”

Another version found in Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 41, attributed to Rabbi Avahu, says that during the 40 days Moses was in heaven, he would study the Torah and forget it. Moses then said to the Al-mighty, “G-d, I’ve already studied for 40 days and I don’t know one thing!”  When the 40 days were over, the Al-mighty gave Moses the Torah as a gift, confirming the Talmudic adage (Brachot 12a), that “everything is judged by the conclusion.” Had Moses not labored for 40 days, he would not have merited the gift.

The Chiddushei HaRim comments on the suggestion regarding the inability of Moses to master the Torah.  If even the great Moses was unable to master the Torah, why didn’t G-d simply give him the Torah immediately rather than wait until Moses had completed studying for 40 days and 40 nights?

The Chiddushei HaRim notes that Torah can only be mastered with the help of G-d. But, G-d will help only those who make an attempt to master Torah themselves. It was through the great efforts that Moses invested in trying to master the Torah that he finally earned the right to receive the gift of Torah from the Al-mighty. So, says the Chiddushei HaRim, everyone can qualify to receive the gift of Torah if they truly and sincerely invest the effort to master it.

The grandeur of this concept cannot be overemphasized. Obviously, it is impossible for a mortal to comprehend Torah on the level of the Al-mighty. Yet, the Al-mighty makes it possible for mortals to comprehend the Torah on the human level. Thus, we see, that Torah study is far different from normal academic achievement through study and diligence. The experience of learning Torah is the equivalent of having a “virtual study experience” with the Al-mighty Himself as a study partner.

Prof. Louis Finkelstein is reputed to have said: “When I pray, I talk to G-d. When I learn Torah, I feel G-d talking to me!”

This is this gift that Moses received from G-d at Sinai. It is a gift that keeps on giving, to those in our generation, and to all future generations who invest the effort to master Torah.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat is also known as “Shabbat Parashat Parah.” It is the third of four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion concerning the Red Heifer is read from Numbers 19:1-22.