"The physical forms of the letters never departed. The 'bodies' of the letters, engraved in stone, remained. It was the divine essence, the 'soul' of the letters, that ascended, leaving a profound message for all of humanity about the enduring unity of body and soul." * For 20 Menachem Av, the yarhtzait of the Rebbe's father, the Mekubal Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson.
At the foot of Mount Sinai, amidst the thunderous echoes of divine revelation, a momentous event occurred that would define the spiritual identity of an entire nation. This was the giving of the Luchos, the Tablets of the Covenant, bearing the Ten Commandments. This moment, laden with divine presence, was a pinnacle of unity between the Creator and the newly formed nation of Israel.
However, the golden tranquility of the moment was short-lived. In Exodus 32, we find the Israelites descending into idolatry, fashioning and worshiping a golden calf. Moses, descending from the mountain, Tablets in hand, witnesses this debacle and, in a heart-wrenching moment, shatters the Luchos.
But what were these Luchos? What made them so exceptional that their destruction became a moment of historical significance? It is here that we turn to the Alshich's commentary, a fountain of mystic insight, which introduces a profound concept: "The letters flew off the Tablets."
Such a statement at first glance seems puzzling and perhaps even paradoxical. How could the letters, which were negative spaces engraved into the stone, fly off? And more importantly, what does it imply about the nature of the Luchos and the divine messages they held? This is where our exploration begins - delving into the mystery of the divine letters and their dramatic departure from the Tablets, thereby unearthing a deeper understanding of the spiritual dimensions of this pivotal biblical event.
The Alshich offers an intriguing answer, setting a stage where the physical and the spiritual converge: "Every letter was filled with a soul, and with Ruach Hakodesh (the Holy Spirit)." The Hebrew letters, thus, are not mere inscriptions etched in stone; they are life forms, animated by a divine life force, 'birthed' into the stone.
So, what transpires when these letters, carrying their divine life force, depart? The Alshich illustrates this event starkly: "After the letters flew off, the Tablets were like a discarded empty shell, without any sanctity, and therefore Moses broke them." This transformation signifies not just a departure, but an astounding metamorphosis. The Luchos, once the vessel of divine revelation, metamorphose into an empty shell devoid of their sanctity and purpose.
LIVING LETTERS TAKE FLIGHT
Let us embark on an imaginative journey, guided by the Alshich, to visualize how this might have occurred.
Imagine Moses standing at the zenith of Mount Sinai, the Luchos held aloft in his hands. Each letter, carved from the sapphire stone as a negative space, is teeming with a divine vitality, the Ruach Hakodesh, pulsating within its every contour. As the Alshich vividly describes, "They (the letters) were filled with the spirit of the living God, which is called the Holy Spirit."
The vision of the Golden Calf and the cacophony of revelry initiates a cosmic shift. The Tablets quiver, the air thickens, and the boundary between the physical and spiritual realms becomes indistinguishable. As if responding to this shift, the letters, glowing with divine illumination, begin to shimmer.
From the depths of the stone echoes a low, ethereal hum. The Aleph vibrates, its divine light amplifying into a dazzling burst of energy before levitating off the stone. The Alshich captures this transcendental event, stating: "And the letters, which were the Ten Commandments, flew off and rose in the air. The letters had flown and ascended upwards."
Following this celestial cue, the other letters ascend one by one, each pulsating with divine energy, each illuminating the sky with radiant streams of light. What was once stone Tablets, symbols of a divine covenant, transform into a spectacle of heavenly grandeur. Each letter, imbued with Ruach Hakodesh, ascends in a radiant display of divine power, returning to its divine origin.
This exodus of divine illumination bathes the entire landscape of Sinai in a heavenly glow, casting elongated, dancing shadows across the barren landscape. The departure of each letter leaves a tangible void, a noticeable absence of the divine life force that once animated them.
Finally, with the ascension of the last letter, the Luchos in Moses' hands undergo a profound transformation – they feel heavier, yet eerily vacant. The Alshich further expounds: "Moses found them heavy because the letters had flown away." The divine essence that filled each letter, the spirit of Ruach Hakodesh, has now departed, leaving behind nothing but an empty husk of earthly matter.
With a final glance at the desolate stone in his hands, Moses makes his fateful decision. As the Alshich states, "He saw that the Tablets no longer served any purpose, and so he threw them down." The sanctity is gone; the letters have departed. The stone tablets, now devoid of their divine purpose, are discarded, cast down to shatter among the rocks of Sinai.
The Alshich’s elucidation allows us to understand Exodus 32:19 not merely as a physical act of breaking stone Tablets but as a deeply spiritual event. It's a departure of divine light and life force, the Ruach Hakodesh, from the Luchos. This event was a spectacle that represented the delicate balance between the spiritual and physical realms. It carries profound implications that have helped shape our collective destiny and understanding of our history and faith.
This understanding takes us back to Deuteronomy 9:17, where Moses recounts, "So I took hold of the two tablets and flung them from my hands, shattering them before your eyes." Here, Moses is not only shattering stone tablets; he's letting go of divine vessels that have lost their life force and purpose, a realization encapsulated in the Alshich's statement, "Moses saw that the letters flew off the Tablets, and he found them heavy."
With this in mind, we can view the shattering of the Tablets as a profound event of divine dimensions. The luminous, divine light leaving the Tablets could be understood as the divine wisdom embedded in the letters returning to their divine source. This transformative event was not just about Moses breaking stone tablets; it was about the departure of divine essence, leaving behind an empty shell devoid of its sanctity, a sacred vessel stripped of its divine purpose. It is this departure that guided Moses' decision to shatter the Tablets, an act that was far from mere frustration or disappointment, but a conscious acknowledgement of the divine reality that unfolded before him.
THE LESSON OF THE LUCHOS
In contemplating the conclusion of this profound narrative, we find a poignant lesson, a spiritual resonance that echoes through the ages, from the slopes of Mount Sinai to our contemporary times.
Just as each letter of the Luchos possessed a 'body' — the engraved negative space — and a 'soul' — the divine light and life force of Ruach Hakodesh, so too, every one of us possesses a physical body and a divine soul. When the letters 'departed,' their physical forms remained engraved in the stone, but the divine essence, the 'soul' that animated them, returned to its divine source. Similarly, while our physical bodies are finite, our souls are eternal sparks of the divine, and our life's mission is to fuse these two realms — the spiritual and the physical.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in his eloquent discourse, connected this idea with the passing of his father, the Mekubal Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, on the 20th of Av. He compared the passing of a tzaddik, a righteous individual, to the shattering of the Luchos: "It is difficult the passing of the righteous like the shattering of the Luchos." Just as the Luchos retained their physical form but lost the divine essence, the passing of a tzaddik leaves us with their physical teachings and influence, but their soul has ascended. Yet, in their ascension, they continue to illuminate our path, guiding us in our spiritual journey.
The promise of Moshiach, the future redemption, is intrinsically tied to this narrative. Just as the Luchos were replaced with a new set, symbolizing hope and renewal, so too, we believe in the ultimate renewal of the world with the coming of Moshiach. This time, the divine essence will not depart, but rather, it will fully permeate the physical world, uniting body and soul, Heaven and Earth, in an eternal harmony.
This is our mission, and this is our destiny — to learn from the flight of the letters, to imbue our lives and our world with the divine light of the soul, and in doing so, hasten the arrival of Moshiach, when the harmony of body and soul, of heaven and earth, will be fully realized. May it be speedily in our days.