It's too late. I'm too far gone. It'll never be the same.
How many times have we heard those words? Or, worse still, said them?
This week's Parshah tells the story of the Golden Calf, the
worst national sin in the history of the Jewish people. Frankly, if I were the
editor of the Bible I'd have left that part out. How humiliating to the Jews!
Just weeks after the greatest revelation of all time, when they saw and heard
G‑d up front and personal, they go and bow down to a cow?! How fickle can you
get? But the Torah is unflinchingly honest and records this most unflattering
moment of ours in all its gory detail.
Perhaps the very important lessons we need to draw from this
embarrassing episode are, firstly, that people do sin, human beings do make
mistakes, and even inspired Jews who saw the divine with their own eyes can mess
up -- badly. And, secondly, that even afterwards there is still hope, no matter
In the very same Parshah we read how G‑d tells Moses to carve
a second set of tablets, to replace the first set he smashed when he came down
the mountain and was shocked by what the Jews were up to. (Sort of "You broke
them, you fix them" -- like the guy who fell asleep during the rabbi's sermon
and the rabbi tells the shamash to go and wake the fellow up. The
shamash says, "Rabbi, you put him to sleep, you wake him up!") The Torah
does not intend to diminish our respect for that generation, but rather to help
us understand human frailty, our moral weakness and the reality of
relationships, spiritual or otherwise.
G‑d gave us a perfect Torah. The tablets were hand-made by
G‑d, pure and sacred, and then we messed up. So is it all over? Is there really
no hope now? Are we beyond redemption? After all, what could possibly be worse
than idolatry? We broke the first two commandments and the tablets were
shattered into smithereens because we were no longer worthy to have them. It was
the ultimate infidelity.
So Torah teaches that all is not lost. As bad as it was --
and it was bad -- it is possible for man to repair the damage. Moses will make
new tablets. They won't be quite the same as G‑d's, but there will be Tablets
nonetheless. We can pick up the pieces.
I once heard a colleague speak about the significance of
breaking the glass under the chupah (wedding canopy). Besides never
forgetting Jerusalem and praying for her full restoration, this ceremony teaches
a very important lesson about life to a bride and groom who are about to embark
on their own new path in life. What happens immediately after the groom breaks
the glass? Everyone shouts "Mazel Tov!" The message is clear. Something broke?
Nu, it's not the end of the world. We can even laugh about it and still
be happy. Nisht geferlich. Lo nora. This too shall pass. A very
practical, peace-keeping tip for the new couple.
There are most definitely second chances in life. At my Shul
we run an adult education program called CAJE, the College of Adult Jewish
Education, and the by-line we use in the CAJE logo is Your Second Chance to
Know. There are second chances and third chances too. Many Hebrew school
dropouts have passed through our classes and, as adults, learned to read Hebrew
from scratch. Today, some of our graduates can even lead the Shul service and I
am very proud of them and our program.
It is possible to pick up the pieces in life. Whether it's
our relationships with G‑d, our marriage partners, our kids or our colleagues,
we can make amends and repair the damage.
If the Jews could recover from the Golden Calf, our own
challenges are small indeed.