Two Sets of Tablets Two Arks?
In this week’s parsha, Moses recounts how he shattered the first set of Tablets when he witnessed the worshipping of the Golden Calf.
What happened to those broken Tablets?
There are two opinions about their whereabouts.
One opinion, cited by Rashi based on the Jerusalem Talmud, maintains that they were kept in a separate Ark. When the Jewish people went out to war they took this Ark with the shattered Tablets with them to ensure victory.
The other opinion states that the broken Tablets were kept in the same Ark as the second Tablets. (According to Maimonides, based on a Talmudic tradition, the Ark with the Tablets is still around today, hidden in a subterranean chamber beneath the Temple Mount. It follows that the broken Tablets are there as well.)
To reconcile the two views, it may be suggested that before the conquest of Canaan the shattered Tablets were kept in a separate Ark for use in their battles. However, when the need for fighting wars came to an end and they reached the state of peace and rest that characterized King Solomon’s era with construction of the Bais Hamikdash, they consolidated the two sets of Tablets into a single Ark.
Respecting Shattered Minds
Whatever the Torah and our Sages tell us about the Bais Hamikdash is intended to serve as guidance for us regarding our own spiritual lives. This is especially true concerning the holiest part of the Bais Hamikdash: the Ark with its holy Tablets.
What lessons can we derive from the two sets of Tablets and the two versions of where the shattered Tablets were housed?
Concerning the view that the shattered Tablets were kept together with the whole Tablets, the Talmud derives the following important lesson:
“Be careful to honor a scholar who forgot his learning because of infirmity, because the whole Tablets and the shattered Tablets are both in the Ark.”
We can expand on this lesson and apply it not only to a person whose learning was forgotten due to old age or illness, but to each and every Jew.
Although we must always strive to reach the state of mind in which we experience wholeness and joy, there are times when we have what the Psalmist calls “a broken and crushed heart.” The Chassidic Master Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk once remarked that, just as there is nothing more “crooked” than a straight ladder, there is nothing more whole than a broken heart.
There are times when we feel that our connection to G-d and His Torah, symbolized by the Tablets, is whole, wholesome and healthy. In these periods of blessing we are active and energized, full of enthusiasm. But, invariably, these times are followed by intervals of decline when we lose our feelings, when we feel that our Tablets, the words of G-d that were etched into our souls, have been shattered. They no longer inspire us. Our shattered Tablets can also result from pain and suffering, disillusionment with people who were our role models and disappointed us, or a myriad of factors that cause us to go through periods of emptiness and shattered feelings. We feel parched, lethargic and depressed.
The lesson from the shattered Tablets that were placed alongside the whole Tablets in a single Ark is that their states, shattered and whole, are not mutually exclusive. We grow in our Judaism from both experiences. The shattered Tablets mode can cause of our spiritual growth. It can be likened to the seed planted in the ground where it decomposes only to give birth to a vibrant tree.
The Power of Teshuvah
The Tablets had the words of the Ten Commandments (more precisely, the Ten Statements) etched into the stone. Similarly, the Commandments are etched into the soul of every Jew.
There are actually two dimensions of our relationship to Torah. The first is like the relationship of Torah’s letters to the scroll upon which they are written. These letters are superimposed on the scroll and can therefore be erased.
The second, deeper relationship can be compared to the letters of the Ten Commandments that were engraved in the stone itself and became an inseparable part of the Tablets, which could never be erased.
Although the letters etched into our souls can never be erased, we can experience the shattering of our Tablets. When we reflect on our past misdeeds with remorse and feelings of Teshuvah (repentance or return), when our hearts are crushed and shattered, we are experiencing a most powerful medium for growth. Teshuvah is the ultimate cathartic experience. It remakes us just as whole as the person whose Tablets were never shattered.
We can now ask what lesson we can derive from the other opinion: that the two sets of Tablets were kept apart and that the Ark with the broken Tablets was the one that they used to take with them into battle.
Who is the stronger person? Is it, as conventional wisdom would have it, one whose Judaism is inspired and energized? Or, perhaps, it is the person who feels an emptiness in his heart and soul, lacks enthusiasm and who is emotionally dead, but manages to overcome his or her lethargy and do the right thing?
The fact that the Ark with the shattered Tablets was used in their fight against enemies points to the latter, counterintuitive, choice.
It is precisely these moments, when we lose our inspiration and struggle to do what is right, that we are empowered to go out in battle against the negative forces. It is precisely then, when we ostensibly lose our wholeness, that we are able to summon the deeper soul powers that elude us when we are in a state of wholeness. When we have no conscious inspiration, we are compelled to draw on our hidden reserves, residing in the deepest parts of our soul, that “push” us to make the right choice.
When we access that part of our soul, the forces of darkness lose their ability to counter us. The dark forces’ tactic of choice is to deaden us by taking away our excitement. When that fails due to our hidden reserves, the evil forces realize that even after pulling out all their stops they still failed to get us to submit.
The lesson therefore is that while the broken and whole Tablets were equally holy and placed in the same Ark, the broken Tablets enjoy a measure of superiority because they deal with a part of us that transcends our conventional wholeness and empowers us to defeat all the forces of darkness.
Galus and Shattered Tablets
Galus is the ultimate period when our senses are dulled. It is the “shattered Tablets” period of history.
Moshiach did not come for us when we were whole, before the onset of the exile, when we had the Bais Hamikdash. Moshiach waits to come after we have suffered through exile that has made us like the shattered Tablets, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is precisely during this period of exile when we make the right choices by staying faithful to the Torah and its Commandments. This attests to the fact that our deepest soul powers have been accessed and that will certainly bring us the Final Redemption through Moshiach, imminently!