Rabbi Yisrael Shachor
Former Rosh Kollel in Chicago
One of the primary aspects of Parshat Ki Tisa is the episode of the egel (the golden calf) and the ensuing breaking of the luchot(Tablets). This incident is followed by Moshe Rabbenu’s prayers, the reconciliation, and the subsequent giving of the second set ofluchot.
Moshe recites the well-known K’brit Shlosh Esreh (literally, “as the covenant of the thirteen”) prayer, listing HaKadosh Baruch Hu’smidot (attributes) which attest to Hashem’s direct involvement in our lives. The Midrashim indicate that there was no covenant attached to the first luchot, and we must determine why not.
I heard a response to this question from one of the gedolim of the previous generation: Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York. As a young man, Rav Hutner learned in Yeshivat Hevron, and later in life, he returned to Eretz Yisrael, where he continued to disseminate the words of the Torah via his writings (Pachad Yitzchak).
Rav Hutner zt”l explains that a covenant is not necessary when both sides are fully connected by the binds of love. However, during bad times, when one side does not act appropriately, a covenant is needed to secure the relationship, to overcome the crisis, and to ensure that the connection continues in anticipation of better times. As the pasuk says, “Renew our days as of old.” (Eichah 5:21) Without a covenant, the relationship is dependent on both sides fulfilling their mutual obligations. However, if chas vichalilah one party reneges on its obligations, the other party is no longer committed to the relationship. Therefore, the firstluchot were broken as soon as Yisrael sinned with the egel. But such an occurrence is impossible with the second luchot, because they were accompanied by the brit shlosh esreh. Chazal teach that this brit (covenant) guarantees that:
“‘And I shall show favor’ – even if he is undeserving. ‘And I shall show mercy’ – even if he is undeserving.” (BT Brachot 7a)
This paradigm was in effect from the very beginning of Creation. Adam HaRishon was created without a covenant. His existence was dependent on his observing the Creator’s commandments. Thus, when he sinned with the etz hadaat, he was sentenced to death. Yet, the creation of man was renewed when Noach alone survived the flood. When Noach emerged from the ark, HaKadosh Baruch Hu established the brit hakeshet (the covenant of the rainbow) with Noach, thus ensuring the existence of the human race despite their sins.
Similarly, the first king was Shaul HaMelech, who was “from his shoulders and upwards.” (Shmuel I 9:2) In other words, he was not only physically tall but also spiritually lofty. However, his monarchy’s existence depended on his observing the Creator’s commandments. Consequently, when he failed to do so, he lost the right to remain king. Although Shaul was not party to a covenant, his successor David HaMelech was granted sovereignty with a covenant, and therefore, his throne is eternal.
We can thus resolve the apparent contradiction between two psukim in the same perek:
“I regret (neechamti) that I have made Shaul king.” (Shmuel I 15:11)
“And also, the Eternal One of Israel will neither lie nor repent, for He is not a man to repent.” (Shmuel I 15:29)
The first pasuk refers to the negation of the original approach – sovereignty without a covenant – in favor of a monarchy which will endure due to the covenant. Yet, the second pasuk represents the eternal truth that the Creator of the universe is not made of flesh and blood and does not “change His mind”.
Interestingly, the word neechamti (I regret) can also be found in a pasuk at the end of Parshat Bereshit:
Similarly, in our own parsha, we find:
“And Hashem reconsidered (vayenachem) concerning the evil He had declared He would do to His people.” (Shmot 32:14)
What is this “evil”? HaKadosh Baruch Hu reconsidered the attribute of justice (midat hadin) which had said, “I will annihilate them.” (Shmot 32:10) Instead, Hashem gave us the Torah based on the strength of the covenant.
All this brings us to the trilateral relationship between man, the monarchy, and the Torah. In the context of Torah MiTzion and its emissaries, we have both Tzion (Zion) – which corresponds to the Kingdom of Israel – and the Torah. Together, both these elements reach out to each and every Jew in order to seek out their humanity, which was created bitzelem Elokim (in the Divine image).
And the covenant serves as a guarantee that these three elements will endure until we are privileged to reinstate the House of David, to see the Torah “as water covering the sea bed” (Yeshaya 11:9), and to ensure the redemption and the well-being of each and every person. As Chazal state:
“Whoever saves a single life from Israel is considered by Scripture as if he had saved an entire world.” (BT Sanhedrin 37a)