The Torah tells a story of four tablets. Not the three tablets of History of the World fame or the two tablets we sing about on Passover, but rather the four tablets that are created sharing the Ten Commandments as well as representing the special connection between God and the Jewish people. The first two tablets were written by the finger of God. God presented these tablets to Moses to share with the Jewish people.
But meanwhile, back in the camp, the Israelites had built a golden calf and were worshiping it. Moses was so angered by the sight that he threw the tablets down at the calf destroying the idol, but also the tablets. The remnants were collected in the aftermath and Moses sheepishly returned to God, telling the Almighty that he has destroyed God’s gift. God then tells Moses to write his own set of the tablets (which brings us to four tablets in total) as the Divine set had been broken and could not be replaced. After another 40 days, Moses returned with the divinely authored broken set and the humanly crafted whole set and both were placed in the Ark of the Covenant to accompany the Israelites on their journey.
The question can be asked why both sets of tablets were kept? We had a new, properly constructed set of tablets, why did we need to keep the broken remains of the first? Why did we want to carry with us that reminder of Moses’ and the Israelites’ greatest sin?
I suggest that the reason for keeping both sets is that we need to remember that even after Moses created his own set of tablets, his relationship with God wasn’t the same. While the sin of the golden calf was in the past, the memory of the pain felt by Moses and God, and the embarrassment of the people, did not go away. Even when something is repaired, it is never the same as it was.
In our lives, we spend a lot of time fixing problems, but not nearly enough time acknowledging the brokenness behind them. When we forgive someone else, that does not mean that the hurt and pain of the transgression has vanished. Sometimes the appropriate action is, in fact, not attempting to ‘fix it,’ but simply recognizing the real pain and challenge that exists. The new tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant to represent our desire to repair our relationship with God, but keeping the broken set also reminds us that we need to accept and acknowledge the broken feelings have not gone away.
There is very real brokenness that exists in our personal lives, in the larger world, and yes, in our Jewish world as well. There are ways that each of us causes real harm and pain because of our beliefs and actions. And we must find ways to try to repair those breaches. But perhaps even more importantly, we need to accept and acknowledge that being human means being broken and, in that shared brokenness, we can gather together – just as we did around the Ark of the Covenant.