Written in Stone (Vaetchanan)
Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things. -Alexander Hamilton
In the Torah reading of Vaetchanan, Moses recalls the revelation of God to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. He takes the opportunity to repeat the Ten Commandments (with some minor differences to the one stated in the Book of Exodus).
In retelling the story, Moses highlights that the Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stones. The Bechor Shor on Deuteronomy 4:13 wonders as to the significance of repeating this detail.
He explains that there is particular importance to the Ten Commandments and that’s why it was etched in stone, as opposed to on papyrus or parchment. The Ten Commandments needed to be written on a material that would never decompose. These verses needed to be written permanently, so that we would never forget them.
The Ten Commandments constitute the foundation of our faith:
- The belief in God;
- not worshipping any other gods;
- not taking His name in vain;
- keeping the Sabbath;
- honoring our parents;
- no murder;
- no adultery;
- no stealing;
- no false witness;
- no coveting.
These are the building blocks of Jewish faith.
Remembering these principles is so foundational that based on this the Sages learn that whoever actively forgets them or any related teaching is worthy of the death punishment. “Actively forgets” is different than merely forgetting or even not having learned it in the first place; it means someone who by deliberate thought decides to disassociate these commandments from his consciousness.
That’s why they’re written in stone. The commandments are immutable. They are eternal. They are a permanent guiding force for the Jewish people for millennia. If we don’t currently have the carved tablets within reach, we should at least etch these commandments in our hearts.
May we merit to rediscover the Tablets of the Law in their housing in the Ark of the Covenant, together with the rebuilt Temple, speedily, in our days.
To Ben & Jerry’s Israel.