Breaking the Tablets
A Rabbinic Journey
And it was when it came to the mid-afternoon and Moses saw the Calf and the Dancing his anger flared and he threw the tablets from his hands and he broke them at the foothills of the mountain.
Shmot Rabba 46:1
And he saw the calf when God told Moses ‘Go. Descend. For your people have wrought ruin’ (32:7) he grabbed the tablets and couldn’t believe that Israel had sinned. He said, if I don’t see, I won’t believe. Oy to them, to people who testify to what they don’t see. Is it possible that Moses didn’t believe God who told him that the people wrought ruin?! Rather Moses was demonstrating Derekh Eretz to Israel. Even if a person hears something from a trusted friend, it’s forbidden to accept their testimony, to act on it, if he hasn’t seen it himself.
Devarim Rabba 3:14
His anger flared The verse ‘Do not hasten to anger in your spirit’ (Koh 7:9) The Holy Blessed One said, Oh Moses, ‘You have exercised your anger against the tablets of the covenant. Do you want that I will exercise my anger?! You will see that the world couldn’t survive for even a moment. Moses said to Him, ‘What should I do?’ He said, ‘I will set a punishment for you. You broke them, you replace them.’ As the verse say ‘You carve yourself [pasal lecha] two [new] tablets of stone’ (34:1)
Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer 45
Moses took the tables and he was descending and it was that the Writing bore itself and Moses with it. But when they saw the dancing and festivities and the calf, the Writing fled and flew off from the tablets and they became heavy in the hands of Moses and he couldn’t bear himself or the tablets and he threw them from his hands and they were shattered.
Moses did three things of his own initiative, and God agreed with him ... he broke the tablets. How did he work that out? He said to himself, No Son of Foreignness [ben nachar] may eat the Pascal offering, and that is only one of the 613 Mitzvot - and Israel is rebelling against the entire Torah, which is inscribed on these tablets, how much moreso. And where do we know that God agreed, as it say asher shibarta, rather say yishar cochecha shshibarta – well done that you broke them.
Shmot Rabba 43:1
A parable of a King who is angered with his son and sets him on a bimah, judges him and finds him guilty, he takes the quill to seal the verdict, what should the sonketedro do? Grab the quill from the hand of the King to calm his anger. So at the time when Israel did this thing, the Holy Blessed One sat in judgement on them to find them guilty as it says ‘Get away from me and I will destroy them. And Moses didn’t do anything’ But when it came to seal the decree what did Moses do? He took the tablets from God’s hands.
What is this like? A king who sent a marriage broker to betroth a woman. The broker is on his way and the woman sins with another. The pure broker, what does he do? He takes the Ketubah which the King had given him and tears it up. He said, It’s better that she should be judged as a free woman rather than as a married woman. This is what Moses did. Moses said ‘Better than they be judged as sinning in ignorance and not sinning deliberately. What’s written on the tablets, ‘I am the Lord your God’ (20:2) and ‘He who sacrifices to any other god shall be destroyed’ (22:19). Therefore he broke the tablets.