Worth reading: Shavuot Myths

  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week: Shavuot Myths.

There are many myths and mistakes regarding the great event of Matan Torah. Some of those myths were adopted from artists own renditions of this monumental event based on their own interpretations, whereas some are simply mistakes of people. 

Here are some common mistakes about the Luchot that became accepted due to the famous drawings of the Luchot:

Mistake: A common way to draw the Luchot show them as the words of the Ten Commandments written on the Luchot or engraved on the surface. Secondly, it seems like the back of the Luchot had nothing on them, just a flat stone.

Reality: The words were engraved all the way from side to side in a way that there was nothing in the place that the letter was engraved.

There was a miracle that one was able to turn the Luchot to the other side, and instead of having the words backwards, they were able to be read regularly (רש״ר הירש שמות לב,טו). 

Moreover, the letters were actually able to be read from either of the four sides of the stones (רע״ב אבות פ״ה מ״ו).

Mistake: As Moshe was holding the stones one can clearly see that they were firm and hard.

Reality: A less-known miracle is that those stones were able to be rolled like a Sefer Torah and therefore it’s very likely that Moshe had them scrolled rather than exposed (רע״ב אבות פ״ה מ״ו ותוס’ יו״ט שם) . This also seems to be the way the Radbaz (סימן תתפג) understood since he said that no one was able to see the letters on the Luchot.

Myth: We are all very familiar with the common pictures of the Luchot which all show only the beginning of verse of each of the Ten Commandments, such as אנכי ה’ and לא יהיה לך, but are those really the only words that were written in the Luchot?

Reality: In the Luchot the entire verses of Ten Commandments were written. Besides the fact that this is obvious, we can also prove this from what Chazal said that the letters ם and ס were written in the Luchot in a miraculous way since they had a circle inside them which was not attached to anything but floating on the air. Now, only the later words in the verses had those two letters which clearly demonstrates that all the letters in complete were written.

Myth: The Luchot were rectangle and rounded on the top edges.

Reality:  The Luchot were square on top with square edges. This we learn from the words of the Gemara (בבא בתרא יד,א) says that the stones had a length of six tefachim by six tefachim wide. The thickness was three tefachim. It is clear from this gemara that the Luchot were completely square. 

Myth: The Luchot had five commandments on one tablet and five on the other.

Reality: Although that is the opinion of Rabbi Chanina, but Chachamim (who were the majority and more accepted opinion) surprisingly held that the Ten Commandments were written on one side and again repeated on the other side.

"כיצד היו הלוחות כתובים רב חנינה (בן אחיה ר' יהודה) בן גמליאל אומר חמשה על לוח זה וחמשה על לוח זה, הה''ד: "ויכתבם על שני לוחות אבנים"- חמשה על לוח זה וחמשה על לוח זה. ורבנן אמרי עשרה על לוח זה ועשרה על לוח זה, הה''ד: "ויגד לכם את בריתו אשר צוה אתכם לעשות עשרת הדברים"- עשרה על לוח זה ועשרה על לוח זה״ (ירושלמי שקלים יד).

It seems like the reason for the repetition was because the tablets were set as a contract between the nation and Hashem, and therefore each party receives a copy of the contract.

Rashi (שמות לד,א)tells us that the Luchot served as a Ketubah, which is a contract between a husband and his bride, here it was a contract between Hashem and the nation.

There is also a third opinion of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who held that there were twenty commandments on each tablet.

The explanation to his opinion could be since the letters on the Luchot were shown from four sides (as explained above) therefore it had to be repeated four times.

Possible Mistake: The Hebrew name for the Ten Commandments is עשרת הדברות. This is a problem for two reasons. One is that the words דבר- Commandment is masculine and according to correct grammar the plural to that should be עשרת הדברים. Next is that the Torah itself calls them עשרת הדברים in couple of places.

"...ויכתֹב על הלֻחֹת את דברי הברית עשרת הדברים" (שמות ל"ד, כ"ח)

"ויגד לכם את בריתו אשר צוה אתכם לעשות עשרת הדברים ויכתבם על שני לֻחוֹת אבנים"   (דברים ד', י"ג)

"ויכתֹב על הלֻחֹת כמכתב הראשון את עשרת הדברים אשר דבר ה' אליכם בהר מתוך האש ביום הקהל..."   (שם י', ד')

The Mishna, too, (תמיד ה,א) calls it עשרת הדברים

On the other hand, it is not totally wrong, because the Gemara(ברכות יא,ב)  brings it in the more common way: עשרת הדברות

Mistake: Only the Ten Commandments were engraved on the Luchot.

Reality: Aside from the Ten Commandments, their explanations and interpretations were also engraved. The amount of writing contained within was surely a miracle of מעט המחזיק את המרובה

 (ירושלמי שקלים יד, במד״ר פי״ג פט״ז, שהש״ר ה,יד. רדב״ז ח״ג סי’ תקמט)

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel