Exodus 32:19 cites, “And it came to pass, as soon as he (Moses) came unto the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing; and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and broke them beneath the mount.”
Was this an impetuous act or a deliberate one? Is acting out of anger acceptable? And did Moses have the right to destroy G-d’s work, G-d’s writing? This is the subject of University Synagogue’s Biblical Trial, “The People vs. Moses: Destruction of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments”
There are several “explanations” about why Moses broke the tablets. One says the tablets “weighed too much to be possibly carried by a single human being; but the divinely etched letters engraved within them miraculously lightened them, enabling Moses to carry the tablets. When the letters “saw” the golden calf which the Jewish people had made, they were revolted and “flew” out of the tablets, back to their divine source—leaving Moses with a burden he could not bear, and which he therefore dropped.”
Others commentators say that Moses broke the tablets in order to discourage G‑d from annihilating the Jewish people creating a new chosen nation from Moses and his descendants (see Exodus 32:10). “Upon breaking the tablets, he told G‑d, ‘Now I am a sinner just like them. If you decide to eradicate them, destroy me as well.’” But just what responsibility does Moses bear?
University Synagogue holds its popular biblical trial program each year to determine that responsibility. In 2013, Moses was on trial for the murder of an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. Now, three years later, Moses is back in court charged with theft by embezzlement and vandalism for the destruction of the tablets.
As in the past trials, leading lawyers will present the case to audience “jurors” on Sunday, March 13. UC Irvine School of Law Founding Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and Laurie Levenson, professor of Law and director, Center for Ethical Advocacy, Loyola Law School, will argue the case before Associate Justice Richard Fybel, 4th District Court of Appeals.
After the lawyers argue the case and present their evidence, there will be a lively panel discussion of timeless and timely moral, ethical and philosophical themes. The panel will be led by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis, and will feature Dr. Jack Miles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and UC Irvine Professor of English and Religious Studies, and the Reverend Dr. Sarah Halverson-Cano of Fairview Community Church, Costa Mesa, CA.
“To have hundreds of people studying Torah in a fun, thoughtful and ethical way on a Sunday afternoon,” commented Rabbi Arnold Rachlis,” with peerless attorneys and an engaging panel is truly a dream. This is exactly what Reconstructionism strives to offer – relevance, reason, intellectuality and joy.”
For program information, call (949) 553-3535. Or to order tickets visit www.universitysynagogue.org.
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.