By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg
In this week’s parsha we learn about the moment that Moshe smashed the Luchos. The Torah tells us that as Moshe descended Har Sinai and saw the Eigel and the dancing that was taking place he became angered. And the passuk says “Vayeshaber osam tachas hahar” – “He smashed them (the Luchos) at the foot of the mountain”. The word “tachas” is somewhat awkward for it is usually translated as under. As a matter of fact, there is another time a similar lashon is used by the Torah. Some forty days earlier when the Yidden were preparing to receive the Torah, the passuk says, “Vayisyatzvu besachtis hahar” – “They stood at the foot of the mountain”. But there, Chazal does address the incongruence and explain that the word “besachtis” is hinting to the famous episode where Hashem picked up the mountain and placed it over Bnai Yisrael and promised that if they would not accept the Torah then “Sham tehai kevuraschem” – “There would be their graves”. But here in our passuk such an explanation does not fit, and therefore we are left wondering why the Torah uses such an unusual lashon?
Perhaps we can suggest the following: Going back to the episode with the over-turned mountain which Chazal garnered from the word “besachtis“, the mefarshim inquire why Hashem said sham tehai kevuraschem – there will be your graves, Shouldn’t He have said poh tehai.. – here will be your graves? After all He is referring to burying them alive with the mountain under which they are currently positioned. Answers the Pardes Yosef that what Chazal are saying is as follows: Keeping Yiddishkeit and remaining a Torah-true Jew in an un-insulated environment is near impossible. One has to steer through life as if living under a mountain, cocooned from the outside influences. And Hashem warns the Bnai Yisrael that if they refuse to embrace such a lifestyle rather allowing themselves unfettered access to the influences of society, then sham tehai kevuraschem – there, on the outside will be their death.
Moshe descends with the Luchos on the 17th of Tammuz. And he sees that his nation has sunk into a spiritual abyss, and realizes he must smash those Luchos. But he wants them to know the reason for their downfall, that they had not followed instructions by staying inside the mountain, but had rather burrowed their way out into the ersatz sunlight of Olam Hazeh to experience the foibles and defects of mankind. So he smashes the Luchos at the source of the transgression emblematized by tachas hahar. They should have been besachtis hahar but instead were just tachas hahar. Look at the difference between the two key words: Tachas has the same root letters as besachtis, but it’s missing three other letters: bais, yud and tav. This spells, of course, bayis –inside (see Beraishis, 6:14). That’s where they should have been, besachtis – inside the mountain, but right now they were tachas – outside at its foot.
Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but there is a nuclear bunker housing a NORAD center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, El Paso County, Colorado. It has been designed to withstand a 30 megaton nuclear explosion from within one nautical mile. That is what it takes sometimes to survive. We too have a bunker – Har Sinai, the original design in history built to withstand other types of blasts.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.