When Moses descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jewish people engaged in the act of worshipping the Golden Calf, he immediately took the luchot (tablets) and threw them to the ground, shattering them.
The Midrash relates that Moses later regretted that he had broken the luchot, G-d’s own handiwork. G-d comforted him, telling him that the first set of tablets contained only ten commandments. However, with the second set G-d would give them a lot more—laws, midrashim, the entire oral Torah!
If G-d intended to give all of this to the Jewish people, why did He not give it to them at the outset? Why did he wait until the Jews sinned, leading Moses to break the tablets, and then give the oral Torah to them with the second set?
There is a lesson for us to learn from this. In order to be worthy of accepting the Torah, we must be humbled. When one has the slightest feeling of self-importance, one is not a vessel to receive the Torah. Only one who has no trace of ego is a fitting receptacle for the Torah’s teachings.
In our prayers we say, “May my soul be like dust before all, open my heart to Your Torah.” When our souls are like dust, then our hearts are open to study the Torah.
When G-d gave us the Torah, He chose the Jewish people out of all the nations, exalted them and elevated them above all other people. This caused the Jewish people to feel somewhat superior, somewhat self-important—but they were lacking the sense of humility that was required of them in order to receive the Torah: “May my soul be like dust before all.”
When Moses broke the luchot, before the eyes of the people, their ego was shattered as well. Their hearts became filled with humility; they felt lower than the dust of the earth. With this, they immediately became worthy of receiving the Torah. Not only the Ten Commandments, but all the laws of the oral Torah.
For breaking the tablets, G-d praised Moses: “Congratulations that you broke them.”
G-d thanked Moses for this act because this was the final blow needed to give the people a sense of humility and enable them to receive the Torah with their full hearts.
The Talmud relates that the Holy Ark in the Temple contained both the second, complete set of tablets as well as the first, broken set. What was the purpose of keeping the fragments of the first set?
The broken luchot remain in the ark as an eternal reminder—in order to receive the Torah we must be humble! We must not allow our ego get in the way of studying G-d’s Torah. Then our hearts will be opened, to truly receive its wisdom.
Before Moses passed away, G-d showed him a vision of the Jewish people to the end of all generations. When he saw the final generation, the generation of Moshiach, he was humbled—and Moses was the humblest man ever to walk the face of the earth.
The commentaries explain that Moses was humbled because he saw a generation with very limited revelation of G-dliness, who nevertheless serve G-d with complete self-sacrifice. This humbled Moses, who had merited great revelations of G-dliness. It is our generation, the lowest of the low, who will merit the greatest revelation of all time, with the coming of Moshiach, immediately.