Keeping the Broken Pieces

There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt. — 1 Kings 8:9

The portion for this week is Pekudei, which means “countingfrom Exodus 38:21–40:38, and the is from 1 Kings 7:51–8:21

As Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, an 18th-century Hasidic master, once said, “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” Usually, we think of wholeness and brokenness as two diametrically opposed states of being. But as the rabbi intimated, that isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes brokenness leads to wholeness to the point that without the broken pieces, there could be no whole.

In this week’s Haftorah, we read about the dedication of the Temple built by King Solomon. It’s a fitting addendum to the completion of the Tabernacle that we just read about in this week’s Torah portion. In the description of the dedication, we read about bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies. In this context we learn that “There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tabletsthat Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the LORDmade a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.”

There was nothing else inside the Ark other than the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. However, the Jewish sages explain that there were actually two sets of tablets contained in the Ark: the broken ones that Moses smashed upon seeing the golden calf that the Israelites had made to worship, as well as the whole tablets received on the second occasion Moses had met with God.

Why keep the broken tablets along with the whole ones? What purpose could they serve once the new tablets had been given?

The sages teach that the strength of the whole tablets came from the broken ones.

It was through breaking the first set of tablets that the children of Israel learned the powerful lessons needed to become capable of receiving the second set. It was through the mistake of sinning that they learned to avoid sinning in the future. By keeping the broken tablets along with the whole ones, the message is unmistakable: We need our brokenness with us — our mistakes, our tragedies, and our pain – just as much as we need those things that make us feel whole — our victories, celebrations, and achievements. One contributes to the other, and both help carry us through life.

The sages teach that the Holy Ark “carried those who carried it.” When the Levites “carried” the Ark, rather than feel its weight, the priests would feel energized and lifted up; the Ark miraculously “carried” them. So, too, our broken parts need not weigh us down. When we use our brokenness as a catalyst toward wholeness, our broken pieces lift us up and move us forward.

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