The last verses of the Torah encapsulate a glorious career of leadership of
the father of all prophets, Moshe, into a few brief sentences. "Never has
there risen in Israel a prophet as Moses whom Hashem had known face to
face: as apparent by all the signs and wonders that Hashem had sent him to
perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and all
his land. And by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe
performed before the eyes of Israel" (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).
Powerful descriptive. But it is as cryptic as it is powerful. What is the
strong hand and that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel? Does
it refer to the horrific plagues brought on Egypt? Perhaps it refers to
the splitting of the sea or the opening of the earth to swallow Korach and
his rebellious cohorts?
Rashi tells us that the words "Moshe performed before the eyes of Israel"
refers to something totally different, perhaps very mortal. Rashi explains
that the posuk (verse) refers to the smashing of the tablets upon
descending Mount Sinai and seeing the nation frolic before the Golden
Calf. He quotes the verse "and I smashed the tablets before your eyes"
Rashi's comment evokes many questions. Why is smashing the Luchos counted
as an awe-inspiring feat? And more important, is this the final way to
remember Moshe the man who smashed the Luchos? Is that the parting
descriptive of Judaism's greatest leader?
Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant, was Rav in a city when a typhus epidemic
erupted. Despite the peril of the contagious disease, Rabbi Lipkin went
together with a group of his students to aid the sick, making sure they had
food and clothing. The roving first-aid committee imposed strict
restrictions upon the townsfolk, imploring them to eat properly every day
in order to ward off immunological deficiencies.
Yom Kippur was fast approaching, and Rabbi Lipkin decreed that due to the
menacing disease, absolutely no one was to fast on Yom Kippur despite it
being the holiest day of the year.
The town's elders were skeptical. They felt that Rabbi Salanter had no
right to impose such a ruling on those who were not afflicted. Despite
their protestations, Rabbi Salanter was unfazed. In fact he made his point
in a very dramatic way.
On Yom Kippur morning, immediately after the shacharis services, he went up
to the bimah, made kiddush, drank the wine, and ate a piece of cake!
Immediately, the townsfolk were relieved. They went to their homes and
The elders in the town were outraged at this seemingly blatant violation of
Jewish tradition. They approached
Rabbi Lipkin to protest his disregard for the sanctity of the day, but
Rabbi Lipkin remained adamant.
"I have taken a group of students for the last month, and together we have
attended to scores of typhus victims. I guaranteed every mother that each
of their children will return home healthy. On my guarantee not one of
those students became ill!"
He turned to the elders and declared. "When you are able to make such
guarantees then you can tell me the laws against eating on Yom Kippur!"
The Torah ends with the greatness of Moshe. It refers to his great
accomplishments as his Yad haChazaka, his strong hand before the eyes of
Israel -- the breaking of the two Tablets Of Law. Moshe's greatness was
not only knowing how to accept the Ten Commandments, but when to smash them
as well. And though not every one of us is equipped with the ability to
overrule a practice or tradition, Klall Yisrael knows that when the time to
act is called for the great ones will arise to build and cure by smashing
what needs to be broken. Because whether it is breaking a fast or breaking
the tablets, it takes a great man to understand the time to build and an
even greater man to know when it is time to tear down.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
In honor of the birth of Max Handelman on July 8
to our children Carol & Stephen Handelman of Toronto, Canada
Dedicated by Mr. & Mrs. Lionel Fisch