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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Ekev

Parashat Ekev

The Miracle of the Writing

Rabbi Yossef Carmel20 Menachem Av 5764
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Twice in our parasha, the Torah recalls and describes the making of the luchot (the tablets containing the Ten Commandments) and that which was written on them. The first time (Devarim 9: 15-17) it describes the first set of luchot. The second time (10: 1-4) is dedicated to the second set of luchot, given to replace the ones that Moshe smashed. The Torah stresses that the first luchot were engraved in a special way, "k’tuvim b’etzbah Elokim," written with Hashem’s finger. The second luchot were written "kamichtav harishon," like the first writing.

In the original description of the luchot, the writing is discussed in even greater depth, and the Torah says that it was written "on their two sides, from this and from that it was written" (Shemot 32:15) and that its "michtav" (writing) was the michtav of Hashem" (ibid.:16). What was so special about the writing on the luchot, which attracted so much attention?

The gemara in Shabbat (104a), following the implication of the p’sukim, says that the letters mem and samech stood miraculously. As Rashi (ad loc.) explains, the letters were engraved through and through. Although the insides of those letters were not connected to the rest of the stone, they did not fall. Rashi on Chumash adds another miracle, that the same writing could be read normally from opposite sides of the luchot (see Ibn Ezra, Ohr Hachayim, & Gur Aryeh on the extent of the phenomenon).

But let us focus on the first miracle, that the insides of letters were miraculously suspended in place. It should be remembered that our forefathers used two different sets of characters in the Hebrew language, one which is called Da’atz and one which is called Ashurit. The former is familiar only to scholars of Semitic languages, while we use the latter in sifrei Torah and published literature. Using what characters were the luchot written? According to the aforementioned gemara, which says that the miracle occurred regarding the letters mem and samech, the characters must have been Ashurit, because in their forms in Da’atz, they would not have needed a miracle. In fact, the Yerushalmi (Megilla 1:9) brings two opinions about which letters were miraculous and says that according to the opinion that the Torah was given in Da’atz, the miracle occurred with the letter ayin.

It is possible to make peace between the two possibilities and say that both are true. The Torah stresses that the michtav (implying the content) of the two sets of luchot were the same. However, it does not say that the k’tav, the characters, were the same. So, it is possible that one set was written in Da’atz with a miraculous ayin and the other was written in Ashurit with a miraculous mem and samech. (See also the Yerushalmi, Shekalim 6:1 and the mishna in Avot 5:6).

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