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rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


In 2005, Malcolm Gladwell came out with Blink, a book whose premise is that we are constantly making split second decisions using our subconscious. These split-second decisions are often better than thought-out decisions provided that we are prepared in advance to make these decisions — we have trained for the moment, we have experience, we have thought about these scenarios, etc.

In 2011, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman came out with Thinking, Fast and Slow, which the Atlantic called “The Anti-Gladwell.” Kahneman argues that there are two systems in the brain, system 1 and system 2. System 1 is ready to make split second decisions, and system 2 is used for decisions that require more thought. What happens is that people trust their gut and use system 1 for making decisions that require system 2 and that’s when mistakes happen.

In this week’s Parsha, we read about HaShem’s commandment to Moshe to form the second set of Luchot (Tablets):

HaShem said to Moses: ‘Carve two tablets of stone like the first, and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke,’” (Exodus, 34:1).

The Talmud (Shabbat 87a) teaches that based on the above verse, we see that G-d agreed with Moshe breaking the Luchot. Reish Lakish said: The Hebrew word asher (‘which’) is an allusion to the phrase: May your strength be true [yishar koḥakha] due to the fact that you broke the tablets. 

R. Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz (1731-1805), in his Kabbalistic commentary on the Torah called Panim Yafot, asks: why did HaShem wait until now to give Moshe the yasher koach? Why not tell him right away that he did the right thing by breaking the luchot?

He answers that though the luchot were objectively heavy, a miracle happened that the divinely written letters of the Luchot lifted themselves, making the Luchot relatively light. But, the Sin of the Golden Calf, according to the Midrash (Tanchuma-Ekev #11), caused the letters to fly off the Luchot. Based on this, R. Horowitz suggests Moshe wasn’t sure if his decision to break the Luchot was because he intentionally let them drop or if they were just too heavy to hold now that the letters weren’t there to lighten the load. 

However, when Moshe was given the command to form new stones and carry them up the mountain, he realized that if he can carry the blank stones up the mountain, he can certainly carry them down. It was at the moment when he realized that it was a conscious decision to break the Luchot and therefore that’s when HaShem needed to give him a yasher koach to assure him that he did the right thing.

What prompted Moshe to make the right split-second decision? Perhaps Kahneman will agree with Gladwell that when it comes to Moshe, his ability to intuit the will of HaShem was on a level that he could have used system 1 for anything. 

Where does that leave us? Perhaps I am oversimplifying the issue, but it seems that the Gladwell-Kahneman debate is one of l’chatchila or b’dieved (optimal or not ideal). Meaning we all are put into situations where a split-second decision needs to be made, and there are a number of factors, including experience, intuition, training, that will help guide those decisions — just ask anyone who is trying to teach their child how to drive. 

There are so many areas of our religious life where this holds true. For example, someone who is familiar with the laws of Lashon HaRa is much better prepared to navigate a conversation that’s headed in the wrong direction. Someone who is familiar with halacha might be better equipped to navigate a situation where someone makes a mistake when reciting a prayer or blessing. And of course, someone who is actively working on being a better person is less likely to snap when someone else makes a bad mistake.

We can never predict what the next moment is going to bring. Yet our whole lives can be seen as preparation for that next moment. The more we grow in our positive character traits and our knowledge, the better prepared we will be to get a yasher koach when we are put to the test.