Ki Tissa

“Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered’” Exodus 34:1


After smashing the original Ten Commandments in his anger at the Golden Calf, Moses is instructed to carve out a second set of stones. Though a replica or a replacement is intuitively inferior to an original, a number of commentaries suggest that Moses’s set were in some way an upgrade.  

Ibn Ezra (1089-1167), among his explanations for this, says the second were given to Israel on Yom Kippur, while the first were presented on the 17th of Tammuz; or that the second contained the unique collaborative endeavour of both man and God.  

Ibn Ezra also holds that while the broken tablets contained the words spoken in Parashat Yitro (Exodus 20), the second set of tablets contained the Ten Commandments as they appear in Deuteronomy chapter five.  Among many differences, these offer even greater reward and benefit than length of days for honouring parents.

Ibn Ezra is not alone in suggesting that, despite the immediate impression from the verse quoted above, the texts of the two sets differed. A midrash suggests that in their miraculous inscription, the originals contained the totality of Jewish law conveyed to Moses, including the Mishnah and Gemara. The second set required this material to be learned and transmitted from teachers to students in every generation.  

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1820-1892), in his work the Beis Halevi, explains that this, too, is an improvement. With the original encapsulation of Jewish law, it needed only physical transmission, a literal handing down of Torah. With the second set of tablets, each generation was charged to learn and internalise God’s message. The Torah was no longer apart from the people. It was a part of the people. Consequently, when the Ark of the Covenant was lost, the Torah was preserved in the hearts and minds of Israel.
We prize what we own. How much more, we value what we make our own.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive