י״ט באדר ה׳תשע״ג (March 1, 2013)
Sadie and Morris were not a very religious couple and only went to shul once a year — on Yom Kippur. One year the rabbi saw them leaving and said, “Morris, it sure would be nice to see you and Sadie here more than once a year.”
“I know,” replied Morris, “You’re right. But you should be happy that although we don’t come to shul often, we do keep the Ten Commandments.”
“That’s great,” the rabbi said. “The Ten Commandments are so important.”
“Yes,” Morris said proudly, “Sadie keeps six of them and I keep the other four!”
In the Torah reading this week some very significant events take place; the worshipping of the golden calf, the smashing of the Ten Commandments, Divine revelation to Moses, and more. The first two events are of course related … Moses breaks the Tablets after he sees the worshipping of the Golden Calf, which was a betrayal of G-d, and a sacrilege of the highest order.
Subsequent to these events Moshe carves a second set of tablets and eventually, on what later becomes knows as Yom Kippur, the Jews are forgiven.
But what happened to all the broken pieces of the Luchot – the Tablets? Were they just left where they shattered at the foot of Mount Sinai?
The Talmud (Bava Batra 14b) explains that these broken shards were collected and stored together with the second set of Tablets in the most sacred place in the world: The Holy of Holies.
The Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, had a distinctive uniform which he wore during the Temple service — the choshen, ephod, me’il, tzitz etc. Most of these items of clothing contained gold, or gold thread. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the kohen gadol would perform all the services wearing pure white clothing … no gold in sight. One of the reasons given for this is that gold brought with it negative associations — the idol worshippers of the Golden Calf, and so it was avoided on the Day of Atonement.
This begs the question — if gold was avoided on Yom Kippur because it was reminiscent of previous sins, why keep the broken tablets in the Temple at all? Were they not an even stronger reminder of that same low point in Jewish History – so low in fact, that G-d wanted to destroy the entire people on the spot?
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk had a seemingly strange saying: “There is nothing more wholesome than a broken heart.” Each and every one of us wants to live a good life, happy, healthy and productive; we don’t want to get sick, to be burdened with debt, to watch our loved ones suffer or pass away. Yet life is simply not like that. G-d created a much more complex world, one in which there is loss, pain and suffering alongside the safety and warmth we all cherish. Everything that happens to us happens for a reason, and it is not for us to always understand those reasons, and sometimes things don’t seem to make any sense at all. What the Rebbe of Kotzk was saying is that rather than dragging us down, those difficult times can be a springboard for good. A broken heart will heal with time, and can be used to motivate us to change, for the better.
Where is G-d to be found? Not just in the joy of Simchat Torah and Purim, and not just in the Shabbat or festival prayers. G-d is to be found where we let Him in, and often we don’t let Him in until something goes wrong. So G-d is in the hospital and the hospice, the cemetery and the prison. Wherever we open our hearts to Him, that’s where he is found.
Maybe this is the message of the broken Tablets in the Holy of Holies. G-d wants us to know He is there for us in difficult times as well as good ones. We pray that we will never know of difficult times, but if, G-d forbid, the darkness closes in around us, and the pain gets too much, we need to remind ourselves and others that G-d is in the broken pieces of life too. Every person has their challenges, and every person has the G-d given ability to deal with those challenges. Sometimes we just need reminding. Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Zalman Lent
Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of Chabad of Ireland.
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