The Hasidic master Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger (1847-1905), in his magnum opus Sefat Emet, made a perceptive observation about a phrase in this week’s Torah reading. When giving the second tablets of the law, God told Moses: “Carve for yourself a new set of tablets”.
Sefat Emet notes that the Hebrew words “Pesol lekha (carve for yourself)” as they appear in the Torah (without vowel points), are identicalto a phrase in the prohibition against idolatry: “Do not make for yourself an idol (lekha pesel) – except that their order is reversed!
“When you (lekha) come last (as in “pesol lekha”) the result can be the tablets of the law and subservience to God’s law; when youcome first (as in lekha pesel), the result may be idolatry. Egotism tends to lead to falsehood. The Torah teaches humility and authenticity; quiet reverence and suppression of ego.
[Paraphrased from Rabbi Marc Angel, head of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals and Rabbi Emeritus of Shearith Israel in New York; hat tip to Rabbi Jeff Berger.]