by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 5, 2012
In the Torah section of Ki Tisa, we read G-d’s instructions for contributing to the holy service in the Mishkan as well as the inauguration of its vessels and the kohanim (priests) who are to perform the service. Subsequently, we read a description of Moses’ descent from Mount Sinai with the Holy Tablets containing the Ten Commandments to find the Israelites’ having formed a golden calf which they are worshipping. In horror and anger at the site, Moses throws down the Tablets, G-d’s wrath is enflamed at the Israelites, Moses assuages G-d’s wrath to some degree, the Israelites are punished, and Moses retrieves another set of the Tablets.
The Tablets are described (Sh’mot 32:15) as “Tablets inscribed on both sides; they were inscribed on one side and the other.” We are told that the letters on the Tablets were engraved straight through the Tablets, yet, miraculously, the words were not seen reversed from the other side. Both sides looked exactly the same.
Apropos to the description of the Tablets and the entire episode surrounding Moses’ bringing down the Tablets to the Israelites, there is an insightful anecdote concerning R. Chaim Elazar Wachs, the author of Nefesh Chaya (Sholom Smith, A Vort from Rav Pam, p. 118). Despite being a scholar of great note, he refused rabbinic positions for years, choosing instead to earn a living in business while allotting the bulk of his time to Torah study.
For a certain period of time, R. Wachs was partners with a certain Jew in a paper factory. At one point, the partner proposed a scheme whereby they could make a great profit in little time. After hearing the idea in detail, R. Wachs sensed that the scheme involved a certain degree of impropriety, bordering on theft. When he pointed this out to his partner, the partner, excited over his idea, refused to listen.
R. Wachs then asked his partner if he ever thought of why the Tablets needed to be engraved on both sides with the Ten Commandments clearly able to be read from both sides. “I’ll tell you why!” he said. “Because no matter how you turn the Tablets, you see the words ‘You shall not steal.’” “So too,” R. Wachs concluded, “no matter how you turn this deal, you see the words ‘You shall not steal.’”
Indeed, many of us choose, some more some less, to gloss over or ignore G-d’s Word with all sorts of rationalizations and philosophies. However, in truth, no matter how you turn it, it is G-d’s Word and it is not to be glossed over or ignored. No matter how you turn it, some things are clear and it does not pay to try to twist it, for G-d knows the truth and sees through our connivances. But if we are straight with Him, G-d will be straight with us. His word is clear for those who wish to see it as the words on the Tablets were clear from both sides. No matter how you turn it, there is no getting away from G-d’s word.