Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tov in the Luchos

By: Rabbi Avi Lebovitz

Rabbi Chanina ben Agil asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba: Why do the first Commandments not have the word “good” in it, and the second Commandments do have the word “good” in it?

He replied: Before asking me why it says “good,” ask me if it says “good,” as I don’t know whether it says this or not. Go ask Rabbi Tanchum bar Chanilai, who used to learn from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who was an expert in Aggadic teachings.

When he went to Rabbi Tanchum, Rabbi Tanchum said: I did not hear anything from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi about this matter. However, Shmuel bar Nachum, the uncle of Rabbi Acha bar Rabbi Chanina, and some say the maternal grandfather of Rabbi Acha bar Rabbi Chanina, said: Being that the first ones were going to be broken (by Moshe, they did not contain the word “good”).

The Gemora asks: Why is this a reason that they should not contain the word “good”?

Rav Ashi said: Heaven forbid, this would mean that goodness would stop for the Jewish people.

Rashi explains that the Gemora is making reference to the term “tov” in the mitzvah of honoring one’s father and mother.

The Maharatz Chayus is bothered by the very difficult question: How is it that the Tannaim were not familiar with the text of the Ten Commandments, until it was confirmed by Rabbi Tanchum? Although Tosfos in Bava Basra writes that there were some who were not fluent in the Scriptural verses, it seems strange to say that they didn't know the Aseres Hadibros!?

The Maharatz Chayus suggests that the discussion was whether the Aseres Hadibros that are recorded in Parshas Yisro was the text on the first set of luchos, and the Aseres Hadibros in V’eshchanan are the second set of luchos. Rabbi Tanchum had a tradition that it was in fact the case, to which the Gemora finally explains that it now makes sense that the luchos which were to be broken didn't contain the term “tov.”

The Torah Temima (Devorim 5:16) offers another approach. The Gemora is making reference to a Medrash where Hashem says to Moshe that He is going to give a second set of luchos, to which Moshe reacts with joy by saying “Tov li toras pichah me’alfei zahav v’chasef” – Torah is more precious to me that thousands of gold and silver.

Why did he only express this happiness by the second luchos, and not the first? On that the Gemora explains that since they would be broken, it would be inappropriate to say that about the first set of luchos.

However, based on the conventional understanding of the Gemora, it certainly seems to indicate that the Aseres Hadibros of Yisro were the first luchos, and V’eschanan the second. Based on this, we can make another observation. In the second luchos, by Shabbos and honoring one’s father and mother, it says “like Hashem your God commanded you,” which Rashi interprets as a reference back to Marah where the water was bitter. Why is this reference specifically in the second luchos and not the first?

The Chasam Sofer in Parshas Beshalach explains that Hashem taught us in Marah that he is our personal doctor – “ki ani Hashem rof’echah.” Unlike a physician who just heals the sick, Hashem is our "family doctor" who is just as interested in providing us with preventive medicine as He is with remedies for illness. In the second luchos, Hashem wanted to remind Klal Yisroel that committing transgressions (such as the golden calf) forces Him to bring upon us illnesses, and then He demonstrates to us that He has the power to heal. He much prefers avoiding illness in the first place by our commitment to His Torah.