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“Broken/Whole,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 10, 2023 | 17 Adar 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

It might have been anger or frustration or even disbelief. Witnessing the people’s idolatrous behavior as they danced around a molten calf they fashioned themselves led to smashing the tablets. At the foot of the same mountain where the first command came forth: You shall have no other gods but me followed by You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image… Moses took God’s work and God’s writing incised upon the tablets (Exodus 32:16) and he broke them just as the people had broken the covenant.

It might have been the end of story, but we know it is not. Though complications ensued, forgiveness remained possible. Moses interceded. God instructed him to ascend the mountain again and then informed him: …I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered. (Exodus 34:1) Those new tablets would eventually be placed into the Ark as the people made their way through the wilderness to the land of great promise.

But what happened to the first set that shattered? Were they left at the foot of the mountain?

The Talmud explained that the second tablets and the shattered fragments of the first set were placed in the Ark. Luchot v’shivrei luchot munachim b’aron (Talmud Bava Batra 14b). But why? This is Jewish tradition’s way of acknowledging that brokenness and wholeness both have a place in our lives.

Through the course of our interactions with others, through the hurt we experience, the grudges we hold, the missteps and mistakes we carry in addition to the profound losses we face, our lives are made up of broken fragments. Yet, there are other moments when we feel ecstasy, magnificent exuberance, awe inspired breathless mystery and it seems like the pieces fit together to make us feel whole. This is the Torah of our lives held in the holiest place.

Healing and peacefulness happen when we can carry both.

May this Shabbat help you find peace within and because of the brokenness and wholeness of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

Originally shared on March 17, 2017

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher