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Broken and Whole

Broken and Whole


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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Discussion (27)
February 6, 2017
Help Rebbe!
September 28, 2014
top ten best
this is one of your top ten articles written from my perspective.

thanks for writing
john smith
February 2, 2012
Brocken and Whole
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.
Christina Venter
Cape Town, South Africa
January 1, 2012
Broken Tablets
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.
toronto, ont canada
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
Ellen GORE
River Falls, Alabama
October 17, 2011
Broken and Whole
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.
Eula Irene Bunting
October 17, 2011
Thank you Rabbi for this commentary. It is so deep and I find what you said to be very helpful.
Brisbane, Qld/Aus
October 17, 2011
Breaking of the Tablets
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!
Lions Head, Canada
September 29, 2010
The Tablets and the Ark(s)
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!
Gidon Calev Finkell
Las Vegas, NV
September 16, 2010
brokenness and humility
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)
Westlake, ca