The Weightless Burden

“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, neither is it far off.”

– Deuteronomy 30:11

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down the mountain at Sinai, the actual tablets were not burdensome to him. Their weight was not an impediment at all; nor, was he encumbered by their size. The midrash relates that the task was effortless, because the engraved writing, permitted the tablets to “carry their own weight.” Thus, Moses carried the Ten Commandments engraved upon the tablets, as if they carried him down the mountain. Not until he saw the “state of affairs” at the encampment, at the base of the mountain, did the tablets become heavy. The midrash records, that when the letters “flew off of the tablets,” Moses could not bear the actual weight of the stone tablets; thus, at this point, he shattered the tablets on the ground as an act of disapproval of the idolatrous act of the people, who had built a golden calf, as a concrete means of representing deity. This midrash may be viewed symbolically, as alluding to the letters returning to their heavenly origin, because B’nei Yisrael was not able to receive the commandments at that time.

Not until Moses went back up Sinai, in order to ask for the L-RD’s forgiveness, on behalf of the Children of Israel, was he able to receive the second set of tablets. This teaches us that the commandments may appear burdensome to us, especially when we are in a state of impurity, so to speak, like the Israelites, who had momentarily turned towards idolatry. This occurred when, it appeared to them that Moses was late in returning from the top of Mount Sinai; thus, they turned towards an idol, in lieu of a spokesperson for G-d. The concrete representation of Deity, that was forged in fire, would never be able to supplant an invisible G-d, who sanctifies His children through His commandments. The Torah emphasizes that no images are to be made of anything on heaven or earth; nor, are any images to be made of G-d Himself.

Even today, we would be wise to heed the call of these commandments, instead of turning towards anything that we might inadvertently set up in our hearts as an idol. In regard to the commandments, they should not be a burden to us. Rather, we may keep in mind, in order to remember this teaching, that G’d’s expectations are not too challenging for us, nor are His words far away from us. “The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14, JPS 1917 Tanach).

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