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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat KiTisa




The infamous sin of the Golden Calf is discussed in this week’s Torah portion of Ki Tisa.

Imagine the scene – Moshe is up on the mountain with G-d to receive the Tablets after the Jewish people witnessed the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai.

In the midst of this sublime experience, Moshe is informed by G-d that the Jewish people are worshipping a Golden Calf at the bottom of the mountain. As G-d expresses his fury and desire to destroy the Jewish people, Moshe begs for forgiveness on their behalf.

As Moshe begins his descent down the mountain, the extent of the betrayal becomes clear. He arrives to the bottom of the mountain and witnesses the scene for himself. He then throws the Tablets to the grounds and shatters them.

Many questions arise from this scenario. Why did Moshe decide to break the Tablets? Why didn’t he put them away to give them at a later time when the Jewish people were more worthy? And why did he wait until he was all the way down the mountain to break the tablets? Didn’t he know what was happening while he was still with G-d on top of the mountain?

The commentaries teach that Moshe wanted the Jewish people to witness the tragedy of the moment with their own eyes. Perhaps, Moshe thought, they would realize the gravity of their sin and repent.

So was the breaking of the Tablets a deliberate and calculated act, designed to impress upon the people the gravity of their sin or an impulsive act arising from a moment of rage?

According to this view, it was the former that prompted the breaking of the Tablets. Moshe was more worried about the spiritual state of the Jewish people than he was angry. He chose to do something drastic so that the Jewish people would realize in graphic form what they had done. 

Moshe broke the Tablets in order to “break” the Jewish people from their stupor. The Jewish people needed to witness the breaking in order to feel humbled and broken. They need to realize in the most dramatic way what they had just lost. Moshe broke them in order to build them.

Sometimes the breaking of something is needed in order to create and build something even better.

Life is not about perfection. We all go through ups and downs in life. We face different setbacks and challenges. But that is how we grow and that is how we build.

As the verse in Proverbs teaches us, “A righteous person falls seven times and then gets up.” Even the greatest people have their low moments; they make mistakes and face failures. But then they get up and use their failures as a learning opportunity to be molded into better, more compassionate and caring people.

The Talmud teaches that the broken pieces of the Tablets were placed in the ark, side by side with the second set of Tablets, which Moshe made after he begged G-d for forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people.

The first set of broken Tablets were not buried, nor were they hidden or forgotten. We are taught that the broken tablets even accompanied the Jewish people as they went to war. Why? In order to remind them of their failures and how they emerged stronger from them. 

The broken moments of our lives are just as holy as the complete and wholesome moments. We need both elements of the Tablets in our own lives—the broken and the whole. Something that is broken will often lead to a future that is whole and filled with success. As the Kotzker Rebbe z”l so eloquently said, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”

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