The first tablets were given before the sin of the Golden Calf. The second was given afterwards. What are the differences? What do you think accounts for these differences?
(15) And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand; tables that were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. (16) And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables. (17) And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses: ‘There is a noise of war in the camp.’ (18) And he said: ‘It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome, but the noise of them that sing do I hear.’ (19) And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mount.
(1) And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which thou didst break.... (4) And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tables of stone.
Why break the tablets? What to do with the two sets of tablets?
(טז) והלחות מעשה אלהים המה היה ראוי שיזכיר הכתוב כל מעשה הלוחות בפסוק ויתן אל משה (לעיל לא יח), כאשר אמר כתובים באצבע אלהים. אבל הזכירו בכאן לספר במעלתן, לומר כי לא נמנע משה בכל זה מלשבר אותם, כי חרה לו בראותו המעשה הרע ההוא, ולא יכול להתאפק. או כענין שהזכירו רבותינו (בשמות רבה ט יא) שפרח הכתב עתה בבואו בגבול העגל במקום הטומאה והחטא:
(16) Moshe did not hesitate to shatter the Tablets, for he was so angered when he saw this evil deed, he could not control himself.
‘Which you broke’, and thou shalt put them in the ark. R. Joseph learnt: This teaches us that both the tablets and the fragments of the tablets were deposited in the ark. Hence [we learn that] a scholar who has forgotten his learning through no fault of his own must not be treated with disrespect.
How did God feel about the tablets being broken?
We have learned: Three things Moses did of his own accord and God agreed to his judgment… He broke the Luchot. What was his reasoning? He said, “The Passover Offering which is only one of the 613 mitzvot, the Torah says, ‘any strange person (idol worshiper) should not eat from it;’ the Luchot contain the entire Torah and the Jewish people are transgressors, how much more so [that it should not be given to them]!”
How do we know that God agreed with his judgment? For it is written, “(The first Luchot) which you have broken” (Shemot 34:1), and Reish Lakish said that the word “asher” (which) can be juxtaposed to mean “Yasher Kochacha (congrats) for having broken it.”
Eliyahu de Vidash comes out of Kabbalistic Tsfat with a new understanding. “The human heart is the Ark, thus a person’s heart must be full of Torah but simultaneously be a Broken Heart, a beaten heart. Only thus can it serve as a home for the Divine Presence. For She only dwells in broken vessels.” (Reshit Hokhma).
The Ark becomes the Heart, and theology and history become psychology. More importantly, the Tablets aren’t broken, Divinity is. And is we are to becoming a dwelling place for Her, we too much be of the Broken Vessels. The post hoc becomes aspirational, and the imperfect – divine.
And then Faith breaks. Modernity, Enlightenment, or simply life.
For the Hasidic Reb Natan of Nemirov, the Broken Tablets are a necessary part of the process: “Through broken tablets, i.e. broken faith, by means of that brokenness itself the faith returns and amends itself, which is the second tablets.”
The First Tablets are broken, so broken. But that is not the end of the story.
They are a crucial part of the path towards the creation of Second Tablets, Second Naivete.
There is no such thing as unbroken faith, just as there is no such thing as unbroken love. By grasping the brokenness the new tablets can be achieved. Tikkun requires some breakage.
(courtesy of Broken Tablets: A Study Guide for Shavuot Rabbi Mishael Zion)