The Two Tablets
In this weeks's parsha, Moshe recalled the revelation and the two tablets that recorded God's covenant with Israel: "He told you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets" (Devarim 4:13).
Why was the covenant recorded in two tablets? Why was not one tablet enough?
A famous answer is recorded in the Midrash. Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel explains that each tablet contained 5 of the commandments. The first tablet contained the first five commandments and related to laws between Man and God, while the second tablet contained the second set of commandments. They contained the set of laws between Man and Man. He goes on to explain that the commandments parallel each other, e.g. Idol Worship (Commandment number 2 on the first tablet) parallels Adultery (Commandment number 2 on the second tablet). In both instances, a relation is betrayed. (For a full explanation of each parallel, see http://www.lookstein.org/lessonplans_output.php?id=-1965390&existing=_)
However, the Midrash continues and states a second opinion, that of the Rabbis. They claim that each tablet contained the full Ten Commandments (Mechilta on Yitro, section 8). How do they explain the need for two tablets?
To begin with there is the opinion of Sa'adia Gaon. He states that the first tablets contained the version of Sefer Shemot, while the second tablet contained the version that appears in our parsha.
However, there is another way to understand it. When two parties, whether they be individuals or countries make a contract, each party receives a copy of the contract. This enables them to know their own duties and obligations as well as their fellow's duties and obligations.
The same idea applies with the covenant Israel made with God. God took one copy and Israel took one copy. God's copy was kept in the Aron Hakodesh, the Ark of the Covenant, in His "abode", the Mishkan; while Israel's copy was kept by the guardians of the covenant, i.e. the priests, in the Mishkan, in the sacred spot.
Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Va'etchanan entiled: "Despair and Hope" appears at http://parshablog.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html.