There is a general injunction against writing down Torah She-Ba'al Peh (the Oral Law). Since the Torah was given in both a written and an oral form, writing down the Oral Law limits its dynamic nature by assigning it to specific formulations. Nevertheless, we know that the Oral Law was written down, most notably when Rabi Yehuda HaNasi codified and redacted the Mishna. The most famous justification for this act is the verse "et la'asot la-shem, hefeiru toratecha" - there is a time to act for Hashem, (even if it means) nullifying the Torah. Interestingly, the gemara discusses in several places the idea that the Sages are granted the power to uproot laws of the Torah when they see it to be absolutely necessary, and yet this verse is never quoted in that context. It would seem, thus, that this particular act of writing down the Torah is somehow different than the usual power of the Sages to make major changes in the law.

The gemara in Menachot 99 says that there are times when the nullification of the Torah is actually a form of keeping it. Reish Lakish highlights this point by noting that Hashem congratulated Moshe after he broke the tablets of the law upon witnessing the Golden Calf. Rashi explains that the gemara is actually talking about a case such as where people stop learning Torah in order to fulfill the mitzva of escorting a bride. Leaving aside the view of Reish Lakish, it would seem that the gemara here is telling us that when one stops learning in order to escort a bride, he is not simply pushing aside his obligation to learn, but rather that his action of escorting the bride is itself considered to be an act of fulfilling and keeping the Torah.

It is for this very reason that Reish Lakish makes his statement. Had Moshe broken the tablets on his own, feeling that Torah had been pushed aside by the actions of the Jews, then there would be no room for him to receive a divine pat on the back for the specific action of breaking it (although he may have received such accolades for the resulting ramifications). However, the fact that Moshe was applauded for breaking the holy tablets implies that his action was not a destructive one, but rather, was considered to be an act that helped to more firmly establish the observance of the Torah.

[We should note that this idea, that the seeming nullification of a commandment can be considered to be a form of keeping it, applies only to the learning of Torah, and not to any other mitzva.]

We can now state that the permission granted to write down the Oral Law is not the same thing as the general power of the Sages to uproot a law. Rather, it falls under the category of establishing something by nullifying it. Just as Moshe was commended for breaking the tablets, so too are we commended for writing down the Oral Law. Furthermore, our reward for writing down the Torah is not given to us as a reward for being involved in Torah, with our method of involvement happening to be the writing; rather, our reward is given to us for the writing itself as if we were fully involved in the learning of the Torah. This is part of the special nature of the Torah, that when a person nullifies it or puts it aside within well-defined parameters of permissibility, his actions are considered to be full involvement in the Torah itself.

The gemara in Eruvin 54 says that had Moshe not broken the tablets, the Torah would never have been forgotten. As such, the entire purpose of writing down the Oral Law, as a way to ensure that it would not be forgotten, can be seen as a result of Moshe's action at the time of the Golden Calf. As such, the accolades given to Moshe at the time that he broke the tablets can be said to include the fact that the Oral Law would eventually be written down as well. Just as the breaking of the tablets ensured the later keeping of the Torah, so too did the writing down of the Oral Law ensure the fact that people would continue to follow it for millennia to come.

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