Two by Rabbi Zell
Ever wonder why the Ten Commandments were handed down in two tablet form? All joking aside, wouldn’t it have made more sense, for all Ten Commandments to have been inscribed in smaller letters on one tablet. Perhaps, HaShem could have handed down the Ten Commandments in ten separate forms, much like charms on a charm bracelet. Better yet, if the Torah is likened to a Tree of Life, then the Ten Commandments could have been handed down as a tree with ten branches, with a commandment attached to each branch. What message can we interpret, what sense can we make of the two-tablet format of the Ten Commandments?
The two tablets convey balance. In a variety of ways. Most apparent, are the commandments between Hashem and us, and the commandments between our fellow human beings and us. The former commandments represent ritual, while the latter commandments encompass ethics and morals. The Ten Commandments appear in two formats: Thou shalt, as well as Thou shalt not. Many of us know them better as positive commandments and negative commandments. For some now, our culture has been emphasizing diet. I couldn’t agree more. But our culture stresses a well-balanced diet only as far as eating. Judaism stresses a well-balanced diet as far as living. Judaism cringes at those of us who focus solely on G-d, but totally ignore other humans; Judaism cringes at those of us who focus solely on other humans, but totally ignore G-d. Whether understood or not, whether acknowledged or not, our mission in life is to bring heaven and earth closer together. Perhaps one tablet should be seen as representing heaven, while the other tablet should be seen as representing earth.
I have no idea whether it is still part of the elementary school curriculum, but back in the day, we were taught that 1 is a whole number. Judaism however is not mathematics, nor does Judaism portend to be. As far as Judaism is concerned, in the world, as we know it, 1 is an incomplete number. That is why HaShem immediately realized that it was “not good” for Adam, a singular human creature, to be alone. Later on, the sages of the Talmud frowned upon one who does not marry. Judaism views 2 as a whole number. Judaism sees marriage – provided that it a decent match, as taking two “incomplete” individuals and making them whole, by turning them into a unit. Similarly, Judaism (the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiah) strongly advises us to acquire a friend. Whether or not Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiah felt it was important for a person to get out there and mingle, I have no idea. I do however that the great Talmudic sage saw the importance of having a friend (singular) as opposed to many friends.
An anecdote is told about a person sitting down with a psychiatrist. It is his initial appointment. After pouring out his heart, the patient turns to the psychiatrist and asks for a diagnosis. “I think you’re crazy”, says the psychiatrist. The patient is irate. “I demand a second opinion” he shouts.
“You are also ugly”, says the psychiatrist. Second opinions are not limited to patients. Because we humans are fallible, would do well to seek input from another individual, because humans are fallible, we would do well to run ideas past another individual. American English defines a “significant other” as a person with whom someone has an established romantic or sexual relationship. I define a “significant other” as one who will tell you what you need to hear when you are hurting, as one who will tell you what you need to hear when you are oblivious to necessary information concerning you, as one who will tell you what you need to hear when your entire world has turned upside down. Two is a reminder of our need for a significant other.
As much as our tradition emphasizes the giving of the Torah as we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, let us also emphasize the giving of the two tablets. In doing so, let us recall the need for balance in our existence. Let us understand that 2, not 1 is a whole number, and how incomplete we are if left to ourselves. Let us appreciate the role played in our lives by a significant other.