In context of our Torah parashah “Yitro” this week where we read the account of the Revelation at Sinai and the giving of the 10 commandments written with God’s own finger, I thought it would be fun to share a further description of the “tables of stone” as we have had many questions on the subject from sincere members and students of the Torah around the world.
WHERE DID THEY COME FROM AND WHAT WERE THEY MADE OF?
First of all we are told that YHVH took them from the “footstool of His throne”. This foundation under the throne is described as “sapphire stone” in Exodus_24:10 it says,
They saw the God of Israel, and under His feet was something like a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the very heavens.
Ezekiel_10:1 acts as a double witness of this in his vision of the Heavenly Throne room saying, “Then I looked, and behold, above the expanse over the heads of the cheruvim, there appeared above them something like a sapphire stone, resembling a throne. Ps 132:7 says,
“Let us go into His dwelling place [His Throne room]; “Let us worship at His footstool.”
which hints that true worship comes through obedience to the commandments and this is further confirmed by David’s praise in Psalm 119:4-7 saying,
You have commanded that Your precepts be kept diligently. Oh that my ways were steadfast to observe Your decrees, then I would not be ashamed. When I consider all Your Commandments, I will praise You with an upright heart as I learn Your righteous judgments
In Psalm 103:17-19 he refers to the Throne in the context of the Commandments saying,
But from everlasting to everlasting the loving devotion of the LORD extends to those who fear Him, and His righteousness to their children’s children— to those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts. The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.…
Sapphire is a transparent blue “as the very heavens” and has for a long time, been identified with chastity, piety, and repentance. Every stone has a different frequency and it is said that sapphire stone brings wisdom and truth, and increases perception and the understanding of justice. It helps find peace of mind and serenity and promotes a life of sincerity, helping preserve one’s innocence while learning life’s truths which is very fitting for the sanctification of the Kodeshim (holy one’s) in our process of becoming living Torahs!
In Hebrew it is סַפִּיר and pronounced (sap-peer’) but interestingly the root is סָפַר (pronounced saw-far) meaning to inscribe to record, and also to enumerate; intensively to recount, that is, to celebrate: commune, and declare, to scribe and shew forth, and to speak, talk, tell (out)! And to this day our Hebrew term for a collection of inscribed information whether in a scroll or a book is called a “Sefer” coming from the same three letter Hebrew root word.
THE SHAPE AND SIZE OF THE TABLETS:
Various Jewish sources have passed down through the ages from the time of Moshe that each tablet was half-a-cubit wide, a cubit tall, and a cubit deep and when placed together they measured 1 cubit cubed and this would have been a perfect fit in the Ark of the Covenant! (The cubit, generally taken as equal to 18 inches (457 mm), was based on the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and was considered the equivalent of 6 palms or 2 spans. But in some ancient cultures such as Egypt it was as long as 21 inches (531 mm) and called a “royal cubit”. Either way it would have been very feasible for Moshe to carry down the mountain back to the b’nei Israel.
The full Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments, divided into two groups of five, filled each side. Since there are more words in the first five commandments it is said the letters were a smaller size to fit.
Each letter was carved straight through the tablets, and miraculously they could still be read normally from the back side. Since the letters final-mem (ם) and samech (ס) were fully carved through the stone, it is said that their centers were miraculously suspended in mid air and did not fall out (Megillah 2b/3a and Shabbos 104a). And amazingly, the Bartenura on Avot 5:6 says that they could be read from all sides… This reveals why the two tablets would not be too heavy to carry down the mountain because the carved through letters would create a lattice-work through-out the two tablets comprising the perfect cube. Now imagine how it must have looked as Moshe’s face shone with the glory of YHVH and that light from his face shining through the letters when he held them up for all to see projecting the law out in rays of light. And then imagine how that intricately delicate lattice-work of letters would shatter when thrown down in heart-breaking response to the people breaking the law through their idolatry and false worship of the calf and thus breaking their connection to YHVH no longer fit to be a kingdom of priests!
ILLUSTRATION OF THE TWO TABLETS PUT TOGETHER:
It is recorded that the original Ten Commandments [called “Luchot” in Hebrew referring to the engraved tablets of stone that are the expression of the oneness of Torah and the root of our connection to Hashem in this world.] were written in Ktav Ashuri script.
Through the ages some have debated whether the script was Ktav Ashuri (the script we see meticulously copied down through time in our Torah scrolls) or Ktav Ivri (paleo-Hebrew), not knowing that “Torah was originally given to Israel in Ashurit script. When they sinned, it was changed to roetz (Ivri script). When they repented, Ashurit script was reintroduced . . .”
The Talmud confirms Ktav Ashurit in that the letters were engraved all the way through the stone to the opposite side. Now, since the letters samech and (final) mem are completely closed, the section of stone in their centers was unattached to the body of the Tablets, and could have remained in place only through a miracle. This, however, is true only with regard to ketav Ashurit as in ketav Ivri, neither the mem nor the samech are completely closed.
Furthermore, Rabbi Yom Tov al-Ishbili, known as Ritva (approx. 1250–1330), confirms that the Tablets and the Torah scroll that was kept in the Holy Ark were written in ketav Ashurit.
Rabbi Yehudah Loewe, known as Maharal of Prague (d. 1609), says also states the Tablets and the original Torah scroll were written in the beautiful Ashurit script (ashurit can be translated to mean “beautiful”).
Now the Tablets were God‘s work, and the inscription was God’s inscription, engraved on the Tablets.” – Exodus 32:16
It is said however that the second set of Tablets, the ones about which God tells Moses, “Inscribe these words for yourself,” in Exodus 34:27 were written in the script of the masses, i.e., ketav Ivri (paleo-hebrew).
It is interesting to note that this is why, when the writing appeared on the wall during Belshazzar’s feast, none of the Jews present were able to interpret it. Most Jews were only familiar with ketav Ivri; only Daniel, a leader and the wisest Jew at the time, was familiar with the original ketav Ashurit given by God to Moshe. After this incident, the script became somewhat better known.
We hope this study on the original 10 commandments blesses you as you meditate upon it in the process of receiving it into your heart and mind! One way we are commanded to remember YHVH’s commandments is to wear tassels with a cord of blue (the color of the commandments) on our clothing called “tzitzit” in Hebrew. To learn more about this feel free to read our article called THE IMPORTANCE AND BEAUTY OF TZITZIT
FOR FURTHER READING:
Two sapphire tablets:
Baba Basra 14a
Bigger and smaller letters:
Ktav Ashuri (Mem and Samech were the letters containing holes):
Yerushalmi Megillah 1:9
How many times they were carved:
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Teaching with illustrations by Rabbi Isaac. © 2023 Assembly of Called-Out Believers. Use by Permission.
Thank you Thank you Thank you for all your study and teaching, we are truly blessed for your devotion !
So beautiful! 🙏
Leave it to Yahovah to show details in His beloved Torah and precious instructions!