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
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
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.