A guy wanders into an expensive gift store seeking the "perfect" gift for his mother-in-law. Perfect, as in the most impressive for the cheapest price. As he checks out the selection he can't help but overhear the boss berating a new employee who'd just smashed an extremely expensive china vase.

He approaches the owner and negotiates a very reasonable price to have the broken pieces gathered, packaged and delivered to the birthday party, with specific instructions that the klutzy employee accidentally drop the gift at the front door.

The big day arrives. So does the deliveryman. Our hero's plan executes flawlessly. Sympathy all round and assurances that "don't worry, darling, it's the thought that counts."

All would have ended perfectly if some nudnik hadn't decided to open the package to examine what the gift had looked like... You wouldn't want to be in our friend's shoes when his shvigger saw that the stupid worker had lovingly gift-wrapped each individual shard separately.

A Bad Break

Moses comes down the mountain to be confronted by a shocking and perverse scene. Barely a month had passed since G‑d declaimed the 10 Commandments; while the very echoes of the Sinaic revelation still reverberated around the world, a number of the Jews had rebelled and built an idol, the Golden Calf.

In a display of supreme displeasure Moses smashes the two luchot (tablets), punishes those who had sinned, and then heads right back up the mountain to beseech G‑d's mercy. Eighty days later (on the day later to be known as Yom Kippur), G‑d agrees to grant His nation a second chance and symbolizes this by allowing Moses to carve out a second set of tablets.

The two sets of tablets, the broken ones and their replacements, are stored together in perpetuity in the Ark of the Covenant.

But why keep the broken pieces? In what way do they differ from the gift-wrapped public-relation disaster in the above story? Aren't they just a symbol of our crime and punishment? Why stockpile a souvenir of the depravity to which the Jews sank?

Self-satisfaction or Self-delusion?

Someone who has never struggled, never experienced disappointments, can never truly connect with G‑d or His Torah. Self-grandeur and aggrandisement preclude one from approaching the Divine. The scars the world has inflicted upon us, the vestiges of battles fought and temptations overcome are the entry fees to the Kingdom of G‑d.

Receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai was an unparalleled ecstatic experience. The sense of accomplishment of being personally selected for divine revelation must have been universally felt. How then could the Jews refrain from feelings of smug self-satisfaction?

By exhibiting the broken shards of the luchot we were constantly being reminded of our imperfect past and blemished record. Displaying the evidence of our sins, and the subsequent constant mood of regret, engendered a community-wide inspiration to reunite with G‑d, and determination to avoid future pitfalls, thus guaranteeing our right to not just receive but to live with G‑d and his Torah.