A Bisl Torah

The Courage to Build

Why would Moses keep the broken tablets?

If you remember the story of the Golden Calf, Moses is enraged when he comes down Mount Sinai and sees the children of Israel worshipping an idol. Celebrating, singing, and dancing, seemingly forgetting their connection to Moses, and denying their loyalty to God. In response, Moses reacts. He hurls the first set of tablets and watches them shatter, divine words now rubble. Nothing but broken shards.

In an act of mercy, God offers the people a second set of tablets. Whole, untarnished, complete. And yet, the Torah explains that as Bnai Yisrael marches through the desert, the Ark travels first. An Ark holding both tablets: the broken with the whole.

Rabbi Harold Kushner cites a midrash in which Moses sees the Israelites dancing with the Golden Calf and shockingly, God’s letters fly off the tablets. Moses wrongly perceives he no longer has anything to offer. He smashes the tablets in response to what seems like a hopeless situation. Says Kushner, “When there is a purpose to what you are doing, you can do things which are too hard for you.” But likewise, when you sense despair, it is hard to see past the immediacy of the moment. And Kushner reminds us, “When you are standing very close to a large object, all you can see is the object. Only by stepping back from it can you also see the rest of its setting around it.”

In other words, Brokenness is what we feel. But the Torah begs us to zoom outward. Brokenness is not who we are.

The traveling tablets urge us to look past the immediacy of a moment. We all go through periods of angst. Personally, professionally, communally. The Ark held both the broken and the whole as fervent reminders of the human spirit: troublesome moments are inevitable. They cannot be ignored. But determiners of Jewish history were brave enough to know that moments pass. Jewish spirit and continuity thrive when we are cognizant of a greater communal purpose: to let Torah guide our steps, reminding us to be God’s messengers of goodness.

Brokenness is what we may feel.
But builders and beacons of light—that is who we are.

Shabbat Shalom

In partnership with The Jewish Journal, you can also find Rabbi Guzik’s blog post HERE.

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