The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets. Exodus 32:16
Graven – One of the reasons we read the sages is to discover the insights about God’s Word that come from centuries of exploration. Often we find something that we would have passed by without noticing. This verse is a good example. A change in the vowels tells us something important about the attitude toward Torah, but unless a Hebrew sage pointed us toward this change, we would never have been blessed with the discovery.
The Hebrew root word here is charath. It means “to engrave.” Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? But once we realize the word is used only one time in Scripture, we are encouraged to look a little deeper. Anything that appears only once has to have some special appeal since God decided that this word, and only this word, was the proper word for this idea. Here’s what the rabbis tell us:
“Read not charuth (graven) but cheruth (freedom) for no man is free but he who labours in the Torah.” (Everyman’s Talmud, p. 130)
Why can they make this change? Because Hebrew is written without vowels. The only way I know which vowels belong in the word is by remembering what I have been taught about the pronunciation of the word. Yes, eventually the vowels were added with dots and dashes, but for centuries the proper pronunciation of the words was passed orally from one generation to the next. So, when the consonants CH-R-TH appear in the text, I have to add the proper vowels to make the word. What the rabbis saw was that a small change in a vowel revealed an enormous insight into the purpose of the Torah. The reason a man embraces Torah is so that he will experience freedom. Torah is not rules and regulations, legislation and constraints. Torah is freedom. It removes from me all of my doubts, worries and concerns about what to do, what is right and how I should live. I do not have to struggle with which action to take. I am not left to decide for myself what is good and what isn’t. God has given me the game plan. All I need to do is follow it. I am free in a way that no one who tries to construct his own ethics will ever be. There is freedom on these tablets. And all that was needed to see this was a change in the vowel.
This vowel change speaks directly to us. How many times have we struggled with the dilemma of knowing the right thing to do? How many of us have felt the pangs of hoping that what we do will be good and pleasing to the Lord but not knowing for sure because we don’t have a guide? How many times have we confronted ethical choices without clear direction – and had to make it up as we go along? That isn’t freedom, my friends. That is slavery to an internal ethical code, too easily subject to contemporary pressures and evaluations. How much simpler would life be, and how much more enjoyable, if my choices were put in God’s hands by just doing what He says? If the Son shall set you free, you will be free indeed. All you need to do is follow the instructions.
Topical Index: Torah, sages, vowels, freedom, Exodus 32:16, charath