Immediately the question arises: how can Moshe decide on his own initiative to break the divinely given tablets? Even more so, the Rabbis in Masechet Shabbat (87a) praise Moshe for his actions: “Raish Lakish says – Yishar Kochacha that you broke the tablets!”
The Meshech Chochma, Rav Meir Simcha MiDvinsk, answers this question. He explains that breaking the tablets was not an act of uncontrolled anger, but an intentional act geared at providing an educational message. Moshe understands that B’nei Yisrael acted out of the mistaken idea that Moshe, not G-d, was the source of all the miracles and the redemption from Egypt. As soon as Moshe missing, they need to find a replacement for him; a new source of strength, a guru to teach them how to serve G-d. So Moshe breaks the tablets to disprove their theory, and to teach them that even the divinely written tablets have no inherent holiness, and that if their words are not heeded then they might as well be destroyed. Man-made tablets can be considered more holy, if their words are kept.
In the Haftorah to Parshat Ki Tisa (which we do not read this year), Eliyahu HaNavi also performs an independent action in the name of G-d. In an attempt to convince B’nei Yisrael to repent, he sets up a competition between the prophets of Ba’al and G-d. For this purpose he builds an altar on Har Carmel (near modern-day Haifa) even though there is an existing altar in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem! This is a lesson to teach the nation that everything, even the rain, comes only from G-d.
Like Moshe, he acts independently with the intention of renewing the covenant between G-d and B’nei Yisrael. G-d responds positively to Eliyahu’s actions, and sends down fire to burn up the sacrifices on the altar of Eliyahu (and not on the altars of the prophets of Ba’al). This act of acceptance of the sacrifice leads the people to fear and acknowledge G-d.
Throughout the Torah heavenly fire is a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth, as seen for example in Brit Bein Habtarim and the eternal fire on the altar in Jerusalem. Like Eliyahu, Moshe is also blessed with heavenly fire at the inauguration of the Tabernacle in Parshat Shemini. Moshe and Eliyahu acted independently, but both did so in the name of G-d, and therefore merited G-d’s support.
In addition, both at times acted as Shlichim of the people to Hashem, praying that He should forgive them in the merit of the Avot, while also serving as Shlichim of Hashem to the people, resulting in their uprooting idol worship and the renewal of their love for Hashem.
May Shlichei Torah MiTzion continue their Shlichut in the footsteps of Moshe and Eliyahu, bridging the gap between heaven and earth and being mekarev hearts in the service of G-d!