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Taking the broken pieces with us

כוס שבורה

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

All of us carry unpleasant memories of past misdeeds. We recall costly mistakes and bad choices. Some hold the view that we need to liberate ourselves from these memories and forget that we made egregious errors.

But the Torah suggests another approach, based on what occurred after the sin of the golden calf, one of the lowest points in the nation of Israel's history. After the revelation at Mount Sinai, Moshe went up to receive the Tablets of the Covenant. The children of Israel waited for his return but then, miscalculating the expected time of his descent, impatiently made a golden calf. When Moshe Rabbeinu returned and saw the people dancing around the golden calf, he broke the Tablets.

Only after a long period of prayer and reconciliation did we receive a second set of Tablets. As described in this week's Torah portion, they were placed inside an ark of acacia wood. But just a moment, what should be done with the first set of Tablets, the broken ones? Perhaps they should be discarded in order to prevent the recurrence of a painful memory? Perhaps the people should just move forward and forget about the sin that led to the shattering of the Tablets in the first place? Instead, the Talmud teaches: "Both the (whole) Tablets and the broken Tablets were placed in the ark."

In other words, within the Ark of the Covenant, the new Tablets will forever be associated with the pieces of the old Tablets, since they will be placed side by side. The broken Tablets will not only remind us of our past mistakes, but also of our ability to make amends, to start anew and make better choices as we move forward.

Throughout its entire desert journey, the nation carried the shattered Tablets as a precious souvenir which gave them strength. Rebbe Nachman of Breslav said in this context: "If you believe that you can destroy, believe that you can repair."


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