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    “The world

    breaks everyone,

    and afterwards

    some are stronger

    in the broken

    places.” — Ernest

    H e m i n g w a y

    Broken The simple reading of the story

    (recorded twice in Torah, in Exodus, in

    this week’s portion, and then again in

    Deuteronomy) goes like this: After the

    Jews created a Golden Calf, Moses

    smashed the stone tablets created by G-d,

    engraved with the Ten Commandments.

    Moses and G-d then “debated” the

    appropriate response to this transgression

    and it was decided that if the people

    would truly repent, G-d would give them

    a second chance. Moses hewed a second

    set of stone tablets; G-d engraved them

    also with the Ten Commandments, and

    Moses gave them to the Jewish people.

    Yet a few major questions come to mind.

    1. Moses, outraged by the sight of a

    golden calf erected by the Hebrews as a

    deity, smashed the stone tablets. He

    apparently felt that the Jews were

    undeserving of them, and that it would

    be inappropriate to give them this Divine

    gift. But why did Moses have to break

    and shatter the heavenly tablets? Moses

    could have hidden them or returned them

    to their heavenly maker? 2. The rabbis

    teach us that “The whole tablets and the

    broken tablets nestled inside the Ark of

    the Covenant .” The Jews proceeded to

    gather the broken fragments of the first

    set of tablets and had them stored in the

    Ark, in the Tabernacle, together with the

    second whole tablets. Both sets of tablets

    were later taken into the Land of Israel

    and kept side by side in the Ark, situated

    in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in

    Jerusalem. This seems strange. Why

    would they place the broken tablets in

    the Holy of Holies, when these

    fragments were a constant reminder of

    the great moral failure of the Jewish

    people . Why not just disregard them, or

    deposit them in a safe isolated place? 3.

    In its eulogy for Moses, the Torah

    chooses this episode of smashing the

    tablets as the highlight and climax of

    Moses’ achievements. In the closing

    verses of Deuteronomy we read:

    “Moses, the servant of G-d, died

    there in the land of Moab… And

    there arose not since a prophet in

    Israel like Moses, whom G-d knew

    face to face; all the signs and

    wonders which G-d sent to do in

    the land of Egypt… that mighty

    hand, those great fearsome deeds,

    which Moses did before the eyes of

    all Israel.” What did Moses do

    “before the eyes of all Israel?”

    Rashi , in his commentary on

    Torah, explains “That his heart

    emboldened him to break the tablets

    before their eyes, as it is written, ‘and I

    broke them before your eyes.’ G-d’s

    opinion then concurred with his opinion,

    as it is written, ‘which you broke—I

    affirm your strength for having broken

    them.” This is shocking. Following all of

    the grand achievements of Moses, the

    Torah chooses to conclude its tribute to

    Moses by alluding to this episode of

    breaking the tablets! Granted that Moses

    was justified in breaking the tablets, but

    can this be said to embody his greatest

    achievement? How about his taking the

    Jews out of Egypt? Molding them

    into a people? Splitting the Red Sea?

    Receiving the Torah from G-d and

    transmitting it to humanity?

    Shepherding them for forty years in

    a wilderness? Why does the Torah

    choose this tragic and devastating

    episode to capture the zenith of

    Moses’ life and as the theme with

    which to conclude the entire Torah,

    all five books of Moses?! In the

    Fragments We need to examine this

    entire episode from a deeper

    vantage point. Moses did not break

    the tablets because he was angry and

    lost his control. Rather, the breaking

    of the tablets was the beginning of

    the healing process. Before the

    golden calf was created, the Jews

    could find G-d within the

    wholesomeness of the tablets,

    within the spiritual wholesomeness

    of life. Now, after the people have

    created the golden calf, hope was

    not lost. Now they would find G-d

    in the shattered pieces of a once

    beautiful dream. Moses was

    teaching the Jewish people the

    greatest message of Judaism: Truth

    could be crafted not only from the

    spiritually perfected life, but also

    from the broken pieces of the human

    corrupt and demoralized psyche.

    The broken tablets, too, possess the

    light of G-d. Which is why the sages

    tell us that not only the whole

    tablets, but also the broken ones,

    were situated in the holy of holies.

    This conveyed the message

    articulated at the very genesis of Judaism:

    From the broken pieces of life you can

    create a holy of holies. G-d, the sages tell

    us, affirmed Moses’ decision to break the

    tablets. G-d told him, “Thank you for

    breaking them .” Because the broken

    tablets, representing the shattered pieces

    of human existence, have their own story

    to tell; they contain a light all their own.

    Truth is found not only in

    wholesomeness, but also—sometimes

    primarily—in the broken fragments of

    the human spirit . There are moments

    when G-d desires that we connect to Him

    as wholesome people, with clarity and a

    sense of fullness; there are yet deeper

    moments when He desires that we find

    Him in the shattered experiences of our

    lives. We hope and pray to always enjoy

    the “whole tablets,” but when we

    encounter the broken ones, we ought not

    to run from them or become dejected by

    them; with tenderness we ought to

    embrace them and bring them into our

    “holy of holies,” recalling the

    observation of one of the Rebbe’s, “there

    is nothing more whole than a broken

    heart.” We often believe that G-d can be

    found in our moments of spiritual

    wholesomeness. But how about in the

    conflicts which torment our psyches?

    How about when we are struggling with

    depression, addiction or confusion? How

    about when we fece despair and pain?

    How about in very conflict between a

    godless existence and a G-d-centered

    existence? We associate “religion” with

    “religious” moments. But how about our

    “non-religious” moments? What Moses

    accomplished with breaking the tablets

    was the demonstration of the truth that

    the stuff we call holiness can be carved

    out from the very alienation of a person

    from G-d. From the very turmoil of his or

    her psychological and spiritual

    brokenness, a new holiness can be

    discovered. It is on this note that the

    Torah chooses to culminate its tribute to

    Moses’ life. The greatest achievement of

    Moses was his ability to show humanity

    how we can take our brokenness and turn

    it into a holy of holies. There is light and

    joy to be found in the fragments of