Thursday, July 9, 2020

Smashing the Tablets

The sages declare that five tragedies occurred on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, which is why the day is observed as a fast day. Days of what we might now call "bad karma" (on which bad things consistently occur) were, according to Jewish tradition, set early in Jewish history, and the Seventeenth of Tammuz was fated to become one of the most painful days in Jewish history. It all began when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, discovered the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf, and smashed the Ten Commandments on the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

Since the Torah does not mention dates, the Talmud, asks how it is known that the Tablets were shattered on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:

It is written (Exodus 24:16-18), "On the seventh day [of Sivan] He called to Moses...and Moses entered into the midst of the cloud, and went up onto the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights." The [remaining] twenty-four days of Sivan and the sixteen days of Tammuz altogether make forty. On the seventeenth of Tammuz he came down [from the mountain] and shattered the Tablets (Ta'anit 28b).

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God was ready to destroy the Israelites and create a new nation who would descend from Moses. Due to Moses' fervent prayers, however, God forgave the Children of Israel.

God's anger at the Israelites for easily falling into worshiping apparent idolatry is understandable. But, what right did Moses have to smash the Tablets of law that had been given to him by God? The Talmud, Shabbat 87a, explains that Moses' actions were driven by more than anger. He sought to protect the people. By destroying the Tablets, Moses created a situation in which the people had never fully received the Torah, so they could not be charged with having transgressed its laws.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

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