Parashat P’kudei 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
“Both the whole tablets and the fragments of the tablets were placed together in the ark”.
What do you do when something very valuable to you is broken? It could be a piece of crystal, a painting, an instrument or a sculpture. Maybe you try to fix it. If it is not possible, you buy another one, or you just get angry and then, you forget it.
Many years ago, something very valuable to the people of Israel was broken, the Tablets of the Law. During this important moment, when the people of Israel had the privilege of witnessing the divine revelation, when they were about to receive the Ten commandments written and carved by God, everything was spoiled.
Everything about that magical and special moment crumbled. The people lost their perspective and were not aware of what they were going to witness. Maybe they were not prepared for that sacred event.
On the other hand, perhaps Moses was too rash to break such a special and unique treasure. Both the leader and the people were participants in an act that would impact future generations.
The first Tablets of the Law were broken. What would you have done with the fragments of the tablets? Throw them away? Try to repair them? Save them? Bury them? Hand them out among the people as a remembrance?
In this week’s parashah, parashat P’kudei, after the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) has been completed, we are told that Moses “took the tablets and placed it in the ark” (Sh’mot 40:20). The sages of the Talmud noted that the word for tablets “edut” is in the plural. Thus, they concluded that “both the whole tablets and the fragments of the tablets were placed together in the ark”. (Talmud, Masechet Baba Batra 14b)
What should Moses place in the ark? According to the Talmud, he had to deposit both the tablets and the fragments of the tablets in the ark.
What was the purpose for keeping the broken tablets? What were they for?
Maybe they served as a remembrance of what happened in the past. It was a way to recall in the future this dramatic episode. It teaches us that the most sacred things of value can be broken if we don’t teach the laws, appreciate them and follow them.
The broken tablets symbolize that after a crisis, a problem or a destruction, there is a new opportunity to repair previous mistakes. After the tablets were broken, God gave Moses a second set. The new tablets brought the people of Israel hope and renewed the covenant.
Besides this, the second tablets symbolized that there is the possibility to forgive and to have a new opportunity in life.
In addition, we may say that we can’t completely erase our past. We carry our own broken tablets from place to place. They are part of our past, experience and growth.
The broken tablets remind me of the custom we have at the end of a Jewish Wedding where the groom smashes a glass. At the most joyful moment for a couple, we are commanded to remember one of the most painful moments of our people, the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple of Jerusalem and the persecutions, tragedies and pogroms our people had to live through for centuries. At the happiest moment, we have to remember the pain and the sadness of the past.
Placing the broken tablets and the new ones in the ark together symbolizes a similar idea. The broken tables symbolized the moments of destruction and difficulties. Even when they had new tablets and they renewed the covenant, they had to carry the broken tablets, they had to carry their mistakes and the past.
Remembering the past, we can see the future more clearly and renew our commitments and covenants.
The idea of carrying the broken tablets along with the new ones in the same ark gives us a great lesson for our own lives.
In a similar way, we should carry our own broken tablets along with our dreams, future plans, and new projects. Both the past and the future are part of our lives.