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Ki Tisa: With how many hands was Moshe holding the tablets and why does it matter?

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With how many hands was Moshe holding the tablets?

In Parshat Ki Tisa, we are told how Moshe came down from the summit of Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in his hands. And then when he saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf the Torah says (Shemot 32:19),

“Vayashlech miyadav et haluchot.” – “He threw the tablets down from his hands.”

But the word ‘miyadav’ – ‘from his hands’ – is missing a yud, and therefore it can be read literally as ‘miyado’ – ‘from his hand’. What sense can we make of this?

Reb Yisroel Salanter gives a marvellous peirush. This is how he puts it. Moshe had two tablets. One, which was held in his right hand, was the tablet bearing the laws between ourselves and Hashem. The other, which he held in his left hand, bore the laws between ourselves and our fellow human beings. That’s how Moshe came down the mountain. 

When he saw the Israrelites worshipping the calf, he recognised that they were breaking the first two of the commandments: 1. We have to believe in Hashem, and 2. We cannot worship any idols. These commandments were on the tablet held by his right hand and therefore the thought crossed his mind, “Vayashlech miyado,” – that he would cast that tablet down from his ‘hand’ because what they were doing related only to the mitzvot between ourselves and Hashem, not to the mitzvot between ourselves and others. 

But then Moshe realised that actually we should never separate the two tablets – because ultimately our responsibility towards our fellow human beings must always be seen as an integral part of our relationship with Hashem and that’s why “Vayashlech miyadav,” – he cast down the tablets from both of his hands.

Here we have yet another reminder of the centrality of our responsibility towards others within the mitzvot of the Torah because ultimately what Hahem wants of us is to have a full deep and meaningful relationship with Him and at the same time to always see our responsibility to others as being part of our belief in Hashem.

Shabbat shalom.