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Broken and Whole

Broken and Whole

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Which is Higher?

Which takes precedence, the Torah or the Jewish people? Are the people only here in order to fulfill the Torah? Or is the Torah only here to reveal the richness of the soul? Or are they an indivisible whole?

When Moses saw the people standing below reveling in their worship of a golden calf, two options lay before him. On the one hand, Torah; on the other, his people. But he could not have both. Because if his people would receive the Torah in the state to which they had descended, they would be destroyed.

Without hesitation, Moses threw down the tablets and saved his people.

Meaning that there is something about these people that is present even when they are committing the gravest sin. Something that makes them more valuable than even the Torah, than G‑d's innermost wisdom.

It would seem, then, that the soul is greater than the Torah.

Yet, how do we know that this is so? How do we know the value of any human life? Only because the Torah tells us this story. Without the Torah, we would not know the greatness of the soul and of the people.

So we have two sides of the coin: The soul cannot realize its greatness without the Torah. And the Torah cannot be fathomed to its depth until it is shattered for the sake of the people.

Therefore, the ultimate Torah, as G‑d truly wanted it to be received, could only enter once Moses had sacrificed it for his people. Only then came the Torah as it made room for forgiveness, for human input, for that which is beyond the letter of the law. The essential Torah, as it is one with the people who are receiving it.


Everything Man is given comes in a finite package. True, the Unknowable, the source of wisdom and blessing, is infinite. But we are not. So, we can only receive wisdom and blessing piece by piece, in parcel form.

Even the tablets Moses carried down from Mount Sinai were defined and bounded. There was a limited set of laws, no more and no less. If you obeyed them, you were good. If not, you were bad. And that was that.

And so, when G‑d saw Moses mourning over the broken tablets, He told him, "You have done well by smashing the tablets. For now you will receive a Torah you may extend wider than the sea."

With the second tablets came the ability for the human mind to extend the Torah within the framework of the Oral Law. As well, there came the possibility that a Jew could fail and yet restore his place with G‑d.

So, too, with every failure. In truth, there is only one thing that can put you further ahead than success, and that is failure. When you are successful, you are whole and complete. That is wonderful, but with wholeness you cannot break out beyond your own universe.

When you fail, you are broken. You look at the pieces of yourself lying on the ground and say, "This is worthless. I must go beyond this."

Now you can escape. Now you can grow to join the Infinite. The shell is broken, the shell of a created being. Now you discover that G‑d Himself was hidden inside. You discover the Infinite.


Why not remain broken? When broken, you can achieve the highest heights. When you are nothing, you can receive everything.

But you are not made only to receive. You must also face the real world and challenge its chutzpah over and over. To do that, you need supreme wholeness, as though you were Adam in the Garden before his fall. You need wholeness, as the second tablets were whole.

Once the people had achieved forgiveness and atonement for their failure, Moses was told to carve a second set of tablets. These were not the work of G‑d, as the first ones. Rather, they were the achievement of human work. They were merited through the repentance of the people and the stubborn pleading of Moses. These remained whole.


Both the second, whole tablets and the original, broken ones were placed together in the Ark. So too, in the Ark of your heart lie two sets of tablets, one broken and one whole. After all, when you find the Infinite, where will you put it? In your broken vessel? It will not stay. In a new, whole one? It will not fit.

So you allow your heart to feel broken in bitterness for its confines. And yet it is whole in the joy of a boundless soul.

And if you should say, "But it is impossible! It is beyond the capacity of a created being to be both something and nothing at once."

You are right. It is impossible. That is precisely the advantage that Man holds over the angels: Only the human heart can be broken and whole at once. That is why G‑d created you. To join heaven and earth. Nothingness and Being. To make the impossible real.


Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory; rendered by Tzvi Freeman.
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Shmuel February 6, 2017

Help Rebbe! Reply

john smith FL September 28, 2014

this is one of your top ten articles written from my perspective.

thanks for writing Reply

Christina Venter Cape Town, South Africa February 2, 2012

Thank you Rabbi Freeman. Blessed be our Abba Father for helping us to return one day at a time. One step at a time. He never forsakes or leave anyone alone. I am so deeply indebted to Him for giving me a second chance to do a better job this time around. Reply

Anonymous toronto, ont canada January 1, 2012

The Story of Moses walking down the Mountain with the Tablets, written of G-d, explains how 'Árticles', can become an Óbject' adorned by Mankind and subjected to a transfer - in carnal spirit -love, frome the Golden Calf to the Stone carried by Moses, as the Article complete and whole as a 'mass'.

The Anger of Moses was essential, along with the wisdom to 'read' the intentions of His People regarding 'reaching out to touch a part of G-d. Reply

Ellen GORE River Falls, Alabama October 18, 2011

Thank you for letting us read this message! I know The first 5 books of The Torah is where we learn the meaning of the Jewish laws I would like to know if any other books in the Bible are used also? Thank you for making it simple so that we can understand the meaning ! I enjoy each one have a great day Reply

Eula Irene Bunting RFD, IL / USA October 17, 2011

You know there have been so many times in my life when I have sinned and I look back and i realize now what I felt then, I felt broken, incomplete, not right, but after I confessed my sin and received forgiveness I feel complete again. How beaultiful this is and thank you for showing me what that feeling is when I have done something wrong. I am broken and I need G-d to make me complete again. Thank you so much for this i can carry it through my lifetime a healing ointment for my soul. Reply

Rosemary Brisbane, Qld/Aus October 17, 2011

Thank you Rabbi for this commentary. It is so deep and I find what you said to be very helpful. Reply

Anonymous Lions Head, Canada October 17, 2011

We are told explicitly because of ANGER Moses broke the tablets. Nothing more has to be read in it or made up on the subject. Moses carnal physical emotion caused the problem. End of story. No exaggeration is needed! Reply

Gidon Calev Finkell Las Vegas, NV September 29, 2010

Dear Rabbi,

I much appreciated your thoughts. However, I offer the following concerning the contents of the Ark:

Based on the Haftorah for the 2nd day of Succot just passed, "Nothing was in the Ark but the two stone Tablets that Moses placed there in Horev..." (I Melachim 8:9)

It is my understanding that the second, unbroken, set of Tablets was in the Holy of Holies' Ark, whereas, the first, broken, set was placed in the Ark that would accompany the Jews in battle.

If I'm mistaken, please so apprise. In any case, have a joyous Simchat Torah! Reply

Sheiraley Westlake, ca September 16, 2010

is this what other faiths may call humility
For example, I am an artiste and when I work, I cannot ever afford to feel I am on top.
I have to do my best and let G-d do the rest.
Trying to stay in "the zone" to me means to keep myself sort of unsure and at the same time striving to meet the challenge of the present moment. I cannot afford to feel a smidge of pride for the last achievement nor can I allow any ego to seep in. Humble before the inspiration of G-d allows me to greet the gift & thrive.
This is truly being alive and feeling zest of life moment to moment
We are so blessed to be given this ability as Jews To "return" and find our life in each second and nano second--a new Creation is possible --indeed G-d is with us!
This is not to say others do not have the opportunity at all.
But often people who claim to be secular and have a Jewish soul, actually do find their faith in times when the entire Jewish People are threatened (may it never happen to us) Reply

steve "shlomo" brody roslyn harbor, n October 11, 2009

How good is it to wake up each day in this broken and difficult world and work hard to mend it, the things we do and say the people we share this time with ...all of us as one because alll is One! Reply

Anonymous Palm Springs, calif October 10, 2009

Beautiful metaphor of Moshiach! You said this all so amazingly! The first tablets Moshiach, broken to save the people. The second tablets the people, of human work, 'merited through the repentance of the people' and the intercession of (Moshiach) - whole - that 'receive a Torah (Moshiach) that you may extend wider than the sea'! Two tablets in the heart, joining heaven and earth. Reply

Jana Nicholas Garland, TX October 8, 2009

As I read this excellent article, and the thought-provoking posts that follow, I cannot help but be reminded of the awful, bitter, broken times in my life...the loss of grandparents/uncles/aunts in the Shoah, the serious illnesses, the other untimely deaths that pock mark my personal history. And now, having the advantage of the perspective of being a senior citizen and being filled with an abiding peace and contentment in my life despite everything, it all makes so much sense. What I had once registered as bitterness and heartache is, it turns out not "bad", it was G-d, blessed be His name, unrolling and re-rolling the scrolls of my life, looking for and helping me find His Torah in it. What a great blesing these challenges are that have come into my life. I would not forgo one minute of the hardships I faced for the effect on my relationship with the Holy One of Blessing today. Reply

Roberto Battistini Bologna, Italy October 8, 2009

Your marvelous paper has reminded me of an artifact, a vessel that some years ago me & my wife possessed. It was very original, made by glass, bought probably in Venice, but originally composed with single little broken pieces joined together in a unique shape. Making a parallel, like this glass vessel, everyone of us is collecting our failure inside and they made, together with our other experience the container of our soul, joining spiritual with material (experience in real) world. Reply

Margaret Tucson, Arizona October 8, 2009

What a healthful and marvelous teaching!!
For "Bitterness" I empathize and feel we all need healing and encouraging experiences with others to pick us up at times. I am so thankful for this verse: Malachi 3:20, in the Hebrew. Don't miss verse 21 as per our teaching with Rabbi Freeman, and you won't believe the two verses after that! Reply

Eve ny October 8, 2009

So sweetly unfolded. Thanks much. Reply

Anonymous winnipeg, canada October 2, 2009

I have so much trouble with the need for bitterness in the heart. Why must we feel bitterness before joy ? I understand failure(s) and tshuva concepts. I understand the Amidah and Moda Ani closeness to Hashem among many other opportunuties to be close to Him. It's the need for bitterness that is a whole turnoff for the day/facing chutzpah. If bitterness was just another word for humility, that would be more reasonable.
Care to answer ? Reply

Rivin Burd Prescott, AZ September 29, 2009

The Creator, blessed be His name and His Creation, abides in all of us. So does His Infinite and all His Glories. Wherever He is, blessed be His Presence, lie all that He Is! Reply

LaVictoria Guzman Garnica San Bernardino, USA January 26, 2009

G-d is ever with us, in us, in the north, south, east, west above us, below us, in every corner of our OWN world. We have been bestowed with all the likeness of the Creator, therefore, I myself, accept and acknowledge this wonderful gifts.

No one, can break another, we must stand firm for we have been given all the attributes and decision to do the right thing that is acceptable and in harmony with humanity and our own humanity. To live in the "World" is a choice, to live in ones world is another story, you Decide which atmosphere you will cultivate for your own, giving example by actions, always on the "ALVA" not to go beyond but having constant self supervision of action, as to not cause misunderstanding, G-d speaks with simplicity and clearly to his children, us, for our own happiness. Thank you my G-d, you are our decision. Amen Amen Amen Reply

George miller Orlando, Fla. , U.S. January 24, 2009

I find a partial explanation of the Shattered Vessels of HaSefirot...
Would this observation be accurate?? Reply