Ki Tissa 5778

D'var Torah | Exodus

Why are supporters of Israel so ardent? The lesson from a medieval commentator explains.


After witnessing the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses takes two tablets of stone on which were engraved the words of God and shatters them at the base of the mountain (Exodus 32:19). It seems a fitting expression of Moses’ disgust with the people he leads and their hasty reversion to the idolatry of Egypt. Yet Don Isaac Abarbanel (d. 1508) is troubled by this passage. If Moses was distressed with the behavior of the people, why did he not abandon the tablets atop Mount Sinai where God informed him of the disloyalty of the people and not bring down the tablets at all? And if Moses were intent on shattering the tablets, why not shatter them atop the mountain rather than carry them down only to shatter them below?


Abarbanel, of course, is setting the stage for the answers he had already been prepared to offer. He reasons that had Moses left the tablets atop the mountain or shattered them there, the people below would have been deprived of seeing the wondrous tablets engraved on both sides, the letters miraculously suspended in the stone. To have merely reported on what the people could have received would not be enough to secure their allegiance following the incident. Further, by seeing what they now stood to lose, the people would have been more grieved than had they not seen them at all. Therefore, Moses takes the tablets down and shatters them within full view of the people who could have received them.


Not only does Abarbanel explain Moses’ thinking, he also presents an insight into the nature of grief. People mourn more over what they had and lost than over what they never had at all. People are also more inclined to protect from loss what they treasure in the face of a threat that might deprive them of what they treasure. To be sure, this applies to the tireless support of Israel’s defenders. Over the two thousand year absence of a Jewish state on the soil of the ancient Jewish homeland, it was increasingly easy for Jews to learn to live without a state. But once an independent Jewish state is reborn, supporters of Israel act to ensure that it will never be lost again.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rabbi Allen on Twitter