What was written on the Tablets?

A while back, I studied this question with a friend who was studying Ki Tisa for his Bar Mitzvah, and I was fascinated to see how the text tells quite a different story than I had in my head. (Thanks, Joe T.!)

Anyway, one of the blogs I follow raised the question again, so I am posting the (lightly edited) address that this young man made at his bar mitzvah celebration, followed by the relevant texts.

The Main Question
What exactly was written on the luchot?
Obvious Answer
Of course, everyone knows that the Ten Commandments were written on the two tablets that Moshe brought down from har Sinai.
Yerushalmi Shekalim – 5 different opinions
I came across a Gemara in the Yerushalmi in shekalim. There are five opinions on what was written on the luchot. One was that five commandments were written on one and five on the other. Another was that each of the two tablets had a copy of all Ten Commandments on them . The third opinion was that there were Ten Commandments written on each of the two sides of each tablet – what we call today ‘duplex printing’. The fourth opinion was that there were Forty Commandments written on each tablet. Ten on each of the tablet’s four sides. The last opinion was similar to the second where the tablet were exactly the same with ten commandments written on each except in the fifth opinion the amora believes that all the halachos or details were written in the margins or between the large font of the commandments.

1st luchot or 2nd luchot?
After further investigation I noticed that I had overlooked a very important question. Which set of luchos? The first or the second? It turns out that there may have been a significant difference between the two, as I will explain.
Trace the Story in the Text
Let’s look at the flow of the story right in the chumash, and see if we can figure out exactly what it says about our question. I printed a copy of the most relevant parts so you can follow along.
We tend to think of the story as broken up, because it stretches over several parshiot. But that division is artificial, and we need to take a bird’s eye view of the whole story.
On the first page, God dictates the ten commandments to the whole people. Then, in verse 15, the people say that they are afraid to hear directly from God, they want Moshe to tell them what God says. In verse 18 God agrees, and proceeds to tell Moshe more laws in addition to the original 10. This proceeds right through the entire following parsha of Mishpatim, taking us to Chapter 24. Here, Moshe tells the people all the things he heard from God – clearly, the whole parsha of Mishpatim. And then he holds a covenant ceremony (starting in verse 8) and seals the deal – this is the Brit, or covenant, between God and the Jewish people. This is where we first hear about the stone tablets. God asks Moshe to come up the mountain, where he will receive the tablets with the ‘Torah and Mitzvah’. This is presumably everything that God told Moshe until now, and everything that Moshe then told the people, that is, the covenant. SO Moshe goes up, and he is there for 40 days and nights. Meanwhile, as we get into Ki Tisa, the people build the Golden Calf – and Moshe shatters the luchot! God gets angry, threatens to destroy the people, Moshe negotiates, and God is appeased.
So now, we come to the second luchot. As Moshe had broken the originals, God tells him in Chapter 34, verse 1, to make a new set and bring them up the mountain again, where God will write ‘ the words that were written on the first tablets’ – sounds like a rewrite.
But what actually happens on the mountain is that God dictates a NEW brit to Moshe – starting in Chapter 34 verse 10. And in verse 27, God tells Moshe, write these things down, this is the covenant between me and the Jewish People. In other words – this is the NEW covenant. Interestingly, as will become important in a few minutes, the new covenant turns out to include exactly 10 Mitzvot. And in verse 28, God – or possibly Moshe, it’s not clear – writes the new covenant on the new tablets. Here, the new covenant is referred to as ‘Asseret HaDevarim’ – which we can loosely translate as ‘the Ten Commandments’ .

Netziv’s Idea
Neziv’s understanding was that God wrote the 10 commandments on the luchot and commanded Moshe to write the rest of the torah in between the main text. This idea addresses two major contradicting statements said by Hashem. Hashem said that He would write the ten commandments on the Luchot and later He Commands Moshe: and you write these words for they are a covenant between Me and you (and Bnei-Yisrael). This is a pretty revolutionary idea – that Moshe wrote on the luchot that he initially carved for God to write on!
My own understanding
My own understanding of the text is a little different. If we follow the text closely, it seems that there were two different sets of ten commandments, one for the first set of luchot and a different one for the second set.
On the first luchot, it seems pretty clear that God wrote the classic 10 commandments, and possibly their continuation which as we have seen is the whole of Parshat Mishpatim.
Referring to the second luchot, Chapter 34 verse 28 (on page 3 at the bottom) says that “he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments”. Now the casual reader may just assume that these are the original classic Ten Commandments. But really, God is referring here to the NEW covenant, which appears just before this on page 3 – and as I have attempted to show (in the text below), these are easily divided into TEN commandments! So it appears from a plain reading of the text that the SECOND set of ten commandments were different from the first.

Of course this opens up a whole other question of what is so important about these particular ten that makes them the foundation of the covenant, but that another topic.

———————————-

RELEVANT PASSAGES (EXODUS)

Exodus 20
1 And God spoke all these words, saying: 2 I am the LORD thy God, …
14 And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. 15 And they said unto Moses: ‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ 16 And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.’ 17 And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. {S} 18 And the LORD said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 19 Ye shall not make with Me–gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you…

Exodus 21
1 Now these are the ordinances which thou shalt set before them…

Exodus 24
1 And unto Moses He said: ‘Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off; 2 and Moses alone shall come near unto the LORD; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him.’ 3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said: ‘All the words which the LORD hath spoken will we do.’ 4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent the young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen unto the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: ‘All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and obey.’ 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said: ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you in agreement with all these words.’…

12 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Come up to Me into the mount and be there; and I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law and the commandment, which I have written, that thou mayest teach them.’ 13 And Moses rose up, and Joshua his minister; and Moses went up into the mount of God… and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

[Parshat Teruma]

[Parshat Tetzaveh]

[Parshat Ki Tisa]

Exodus 31
18 And He gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of speaking with him upon mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

Exodus 32
1 And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him: ‘Up, make us a god …

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…

Exodus 34
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. 2 And be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to Me on the top of the mount…10 And He said: ‘Behold, I make a covenant; before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD that I am about to do with thee, that it is tremendous. 11 Observe thou that which I am commanding thee this day; behold, I am driving out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest they be for a snare in the midst of thee. 13 But ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and ye shall cut down their Asherim. 14 For thou shalt bow down to no other god; for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God; 15 lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go astray after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and they call thee, and thou eat of their sacrifice; 16 and thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go astray after their gods, and make thy sons go astray after their gods.
1. 17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
2. 18 The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
3. 19 All that openeth the womb is Mine; and of all thy cattle thou shalt sanctify the males, the firstlings of ox and sheep. 20 And the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck. All the first-born of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before Me empty.
4. 21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
5. 22 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, even of the first-fruits of wheat harvest,
6. and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders; neither shall any man covet thy land, when thou goest up to appear before the LORD thy God three times in the year.
7. 25 Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread;
8. neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
9. 26 The choicest first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.
10. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.’

27 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Write thou these words, for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.’ 28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. 29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of the testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not that the skin of his face sent forth beams while He talked with him. 30 And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face sent forth beams; and they were afraid to come nigh him. 31 And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him; and Moses spoke to them. 32 And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.

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