Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Broken and The Whole

I've been thinking about the portion in the Torah we read last month that describes Moses' assent of Mt. Sinai. During this time, Moses is commanded by God to inscribe His Laws, The Ten Commandments, onto stone tablets. These will be the laws by which Moses will lead and teach the people.

After 40 days and nights, Moses descends the mountain with the tablets to find the Israelites have lost their faith during his long absence and are engaging in nefarious activity. Enraged, Moses impulsively throws and smashes the stones. This passionate display of his disappointment awakens shame in the people and they are remorseful.

So Moses returns to the mountain top and asks if he can see the Face of God. What does he seek? Is he looking for a reason to be doing this work? His anger too is something to be dealt with, and knowing God will not absolve him from it. Perhaps he is looking for reassurance. Yet, it is only the fleeting vision of God's back that is allowed his view and after another 40 days, Moses returns to the people with a new set of tablets.

It is so compelling that both the broken tablets and the second whole ones are ensconced in the Mishkan, the ark the Israelites carried through the desert. Why? Why did they bother to keep the first yet destroyed set? Why would they want something that reminds them of their indiscretions?

There are many explanations for this. One is that these are both sides of human beings: we are whole and we are broken; we do mitzvot, good deeds, and we make mistakes. It's an incredibly powerful, and humbling, statement. We carry all of who we are along the path of life.

Consider here the concept of Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World. Jews believe that the world was received broken, and while it is not our job to complete the work, we are commanded to make a difference, to do our small part to fix it. Maybe that means you help teach a child to read, or you make contributions to worthy causes, or your professional life entails helping people.

Striving to make the world a better place, one person, one mitzvot at a time, is a daily reminder of the broken and whole. Today we can help someone; tomorrow, it may be we who need the help. In the giving, we also become recipients, because as we improve the world, it becomes the world we all inhabit...during the whole and the broken times.

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