Preparing and Writing the Second Luchos

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּתָב לְךָ אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה... וַיְהִי שָׁם עִם ה' אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה... וַיִּכְתֹּב עַל הַלֻּחֹת אֵת דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים.

Hashem said to Moshe, “Write yourself these words”… He remained there with Hashem for forty days and forty nights… and he wrote on the Tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (34:27-28)

Introduction: Who Wrote?

When verse 28 states “and he wrote… the Ten Commandments” to whom does the pronoun “he” refer?

Let us consider: All the earlier uses of the term “he” in our verse refer to Moshe, “He remained there… he did not eat bread or drink water.” As such, the words “and he wrote” would likewise seem to indicate that it was Moshe who wrote the Aseres Hadibros on the second luchos. This is moreover corroborated by Hashem‘s instruction to him in the preceding verse to “write yourself these words.”

However, this understanding would seem to be contradicted by verses elsewhere, which explicitly state that it was Hashem who wrote the Aseres Hadibros on the second luchos. For example, earlier in our parsha, Hashem commands Moshe:

פְּסָל לְךָ שְׁנֵי לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים וְכָתַבְתִּי עַל הַלֻּחֹת אֶת הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ עַל הַלֻּחֹת הָרִאשֹׁנִים

Carve for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I shall write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets.[1]

Similarly, the verse in Chumash Devarim states clearly that Hashem wrote on the second luchos.[2] How them, can our verses imply that it was Moshe who did so?

The answer, says the Meshech Chochmah, is that both Moshe and Hashem wrote. More specifically, first Moshe wrote, and then Hashem “overwrote”. To understand the significance of these two stages of writing, we need to first consider the difference between the two sets of luchos.

The Carving and Writing of the Luchos

The Gemara states that had the first set of luchos not been broken 1) the Torah that each person learned would not have been forgotten, and 2) no other nation would have be able to dominate the Jewish people.[3] The underlying idea is that the Jewish people at that time were elevated to such a high degree that connected them intimately with the words of the Torah and placed them beyond reach of the other nations. These two things are reflected in the makeup of the first luchos themselves:

1.   The carving of the luchos was done by Hashem. As the entity on which the words of Aseres Hadibros are inscribed, the luchos represent the Jewish people who receive the Torah. The luchos were thus prepared by Hashem, paralleling the fact that the Jewish people were likewise fashioned by Him to exist on an exalted spiritual level.

2.   The writing was done by Hashem, representing the Divine assistance that enabled the people to absorb the words of Torah in a way that they would not forget them.

However, as a result of the Chet ha’Egel, the spiritual level of the people plummeted, so that even though they were given a new set of luchos, circumstances had changed. Now, they would need to elevate themselves to be worthy to receive the Torah, by investing in refining their character traits. Additionally, the learning of Torah itself would not be so easy; rather, it would require exertion and effort. Only after that effort was expended would they receive Divine assistance in retaining their learning. These two changes were accordingly reflected in the preparation and writing of the second luchos:

1.   The carving of the luchos was done by Moshe, representing the character refinement that needed to be done by the people to be worthy to receive the Torah.

2.   The writing was likewise done by Moshe, representing the human effort and exertion required in learning Torah.

However, as we mentioned, even after a person has exerted themselves in learning Torah, they still require Divine Assistance to fully absorb and retain it. Therefore, after Moshe wrote, i.e. engraved, the words on the luchos to the extent that he could, Hashem then “overwrote” them. The result of this second stage of writing is mentioned elsewhere in the Gemara,[4] namely, that the engraving miraculously went all the way through from one side of the luchos to the other, representing the full absorption and integration of the words into the body upon which they were written. It is to this second stage of writing that the verses earlier in our parsha and in Chumash Devarim refer.

[1] Shemos 34:1.

[2] See Devarim 10:1-4. Indeed, based on these other verses, the Ibn Ezra and Ramban both write that the words “and He wrote” in our verse likewise necessarily refer to Hashem. However, the Meshech Chochmah maintains that our verse can be read in a straightforward manner that implies it was Moshe who wrote, as he proceeds to explain.

[3] Eiruvin 54a.

[4] Shabbos 104a.