“When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah to Israel, He gave it to them like grain from which to make finely sifted flour; and as flax from which to make fine linen” (Seder Eliyahu Zuta, p171).
Blogging one grain of Torah and unraveling the many garments made of it, "in those days and in our times". With a cultural eye and the assumption that "The Torah is a commentary on our lives, and our lives are a commentary on the Torah."
Symbols, metaphors and old texts lay strewn around the warehouses of culture,
waiting to be picked up again, turned useful, regain value. For one night in
the Jewish calendar, the warehouse becomes the focus: Tikkun Leil Shavuot. We
stay up all night in the flea market treasure hunt which is Jewish text study. As for me, each year I find myself returning to the stall which houses texts about one metaphor: the Broken
Tablets. A fitting image for our time, on many levels. For this Shavuot, I collected my favorite
findings on this metaphor in the format of a study guide. I humbly offer it here, to adorn your Shavuot
Since I couldn’t help myself, I added my own play-by-play commentary on
these texts, and a few brief words about learning on Shavuot, which appear
Whatever happened to the Broken Tablets, those shards which Moshe resoundingly
left strewn at the bottom of Mount Sinai? Reminders of the sweaty idolatrous sin
which broke up God’s honeymoon with the Jewish people, perhaps they are best
left to be covered by the sands of Sinai. Those First Tablets, which were “written
by the finger of God” left unmentioned for two thousand years. Until one
Talmudic Rabbi, Rav Yosef, picks them up and resets their place in Jewish
“The Tablets AND the Broken Tablets are placed in the ark” innovates
Rav Yosef (in Bava Batra 14b). Does he intend for us to carry the First
Tablets as eternal signs of our guilt and adultery at the Golden Calf, as
Augustine would have it? Or perhaps the shards of Holiness regain similar
status to Whole Holiness. Or perhaps, that which was created by Human Hand (the
second tablets), carries the same centrality as that created by Divine Hands.
Or perhaps, that which was broken so long ago, we cannot let go of it. We must
continue to carry it around with us, for better or for worse.
The Talmud in Menahot turns this teaching in a statement about
human dignity, and the dignity of scholarship: “Rav Yosef taught that … The
Tablets and the broken tablets are placed in the ark. From here we learn that a
scholar who has forgotten his learning with time, we do not treat disrespectfully.”
(Menahot 99a) The sign of sin becomes the lesson of dignity. We must treat the
broken person, the Altzheimered scholar, the aging, broken or lost among us –
with the same dignity and honor with which we treat those who are considered
whole. Both have equal value in Holy Ark.
Eliyahu de Vidash comes out of Kabbalistic Tsfat with a
new understanding. “The human heart is the Ark, thus a
person’s heart must be full of Torah but simultaneously be a Broken Heart, a
beaten heart. Only thus can it serve as a home for the Divine Presence. For She
only dwells in broken vessels.” (Reshit
Ark becomes the Heart, and theology and history become psychology. More
importantly, the Tablets aren’t broken, Divinity is. And is we are to becoming
a dwelling place for Her, we too much be of the Broken Vessels. The post hoc becomes aspirational, and the imperfect – divine.
Samuel Beck, "Thou Shalt Not Kill", 1970; Yad VaShem Collection of Post-Holocaust Art
And then Faith breaks. Modernity, Enlightenment, or simply life. For the
Hasidic Reb Natan of Nemirov, the Broken Tablets are a necessary part of the process: “Through broken tablets, i.e. broken faith, by means of that
brokenness itself the faith returns and amends itself, which is the second
tablets.” The First Tablets are broken, so broken. But that is not the end
of the story. They are a crucial part of the path towards the creation of
Second Tablets, Second Naivete. There is no such thing as unbroken faith, just
as there is no such thing as unbroken love. By grasping the brokenness the new
tablets can be achieved. Tikkun requires some breakage.
On this night we don’t just do any learning, says
the Zohar, rather the learning must be that of “beading”,חריזה, which
in the Zohar is usually described with a different Hebrew word – Tikkun (lit. preparing, fixing). The study companions become a group of bridesmaids, lovingly and
joyfully preparing the adornments for the princess on the night before she is
to enter to wed the King. Lovingly they bead together texts one to the other.
From words of Torah to the Prophets, from the Prophets to the Talmud, from the
Talmud to the realm of the Hidden – the skilled jeweler quickly assembles a
radiant necklace. It is with such hidushim, innovations, and tikunim,
prepared adornments, that the bride enters her Shavuot bridal canopy. And in
this way the Torah is given anew each year, each day. As long as we reassemble
these jewels and bead them together in myriad ways, as long as we do so in a
way which aims to please the Bride and Groom, then we are playing our role in the
mystical drama which is the Cosmos.
Tablets: A Study Guide for Shavuot
At that time the LORD said unto me: 'Hew
thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto Me into the
mount; and make thee an ark of wood.And
I will write on the tablets which you smashed, and place them in the ark.'
So I made an ark of acacia-wood, and hewed
two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having
the two tables in my hand.
And He wrote on the tables according to the
first writing, the ten words, which the LORD spoke unto you in the mount out
of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them
Rav Yosef taught:
“The tablets which you broke and place them in the ark” – this teaches
that the Tablets and the broken tablets are placed in the ark.
תני רב יוסף: "אשר
שברת ושמתם" - מלמד שהלוחות ושברי לוחות מונחין בארון [...]
תלמוד בבלי בבא בתרא יד ע"א-ע"ב
Bavli Menahot 99a
Rav Yosef taught: “The tablets which you broke and place them in the ark”
– this teaches that the Tablets and the broken tablets are placed in the ark.
From here we learn that a scholar who has
forgotten his learning out of force, we do not treat him disrespectfully.
שברת ושמתם בארון" תני רב יוסף: מלמד שהלוחות ושברי לוחות מונחין בארון, מכאן
לתלמיד חכם ששכח תלמודו מחמת אונסו שאין נוהגין בו מנהג בזיון.תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות
D.Reshit Hokhma, R.
Eliyahu deVidash, Gate of Holiness 7; 16th C Kabbalistic
teaches that the human heart is the Ark. And it is known that in the Ark were
stored both the Tablets and the Broken Tablets. Similarly, a person’s heart
must be full of Torah… and similarly, a person’s heart must be a broken heart,
a beaten heart, so that it can serve as a home for the Shekhina. For the
Shekhina [divine presence] only dwells in broken vessels, which are the poor,
whose heart is a broken and beaten heart. And whoever has a haughty heart
propels the Shekhina from him, as it says “God detests those of haughty
ועוד נלמוד מדברי הרשב"י
שאמר שכיס הלב הוא הארון, ונודע הוא שבתוך הארון היו הלוחות ושברי לוחות, כן ראוי שיהיה
לבו מלא תורה... וכנגד שברי לוחות צריך שיהיה לבו לב נשבר ונדכה שיהיה מכון לשכינה,
שהשכינה מושבה הם מאנין תבירין דילה [=כלים שבורים שלה], והם העניים שלבם לב נשבר ונדכה,
ומי שלבו מתגאה עליו דוחה השכינה מעליו שנאמר תועבת ה' כל גבה לב.
ספר ראשית חכמה - שער הקדושה - פרק שביעי
E.R. Natan of Nemirov, Likkutei
Halakhot, 19th Century Hassid, student of Reb Nachman of
Breslov, Shabbat 6
is the meaning of the verse “Which you broke and place in the Ark”, about which
our Sages said: “the Tablets and the Broken Tablets are placed in the Ark”. By
means of the aspect of broken tablets, broken faith, by means of that
brokenness itself the faith returns and amends itself, which is the second
thanks to the existence of a shard of the broken faith, by keeping that shard
he is fulfilling the advice of the faith itself which was broken – and he can
return and repair that faith which is the aspect of receiving second tablets.
Yitzhak Arama, Akeidat Yitzhak, 15th century Spain
didn’t God sculpt the second tablets, the way He sculpted the first ones?
Because that which is totally Divine is not sustainable in the hands of humans.
Therefor the first tablets, which were “made by God and written by God”, were
not sustainable. Therefore God told Moses “sculpt [the second Tablets] for
yourself” – you make them and I will shape them, thus retaining both the shape
and image of the first ones, but these will be sustainable.
למה לא פסלם הקדוש
ברוך הוא בעצמו – כראשונים? לפי שהדברים האלוהיים בהחלט אין להם קיום אצל בני
אדם, לפיכך לא נתקיימו הלוחות הראשונים ש"הלוחות מעשה אלוהים המה והמכתב מכתב
אלוהים הוא" (ל"ב ט"ז), לכן "פסל לך" ועשה אתה את גופן
ואני אתן את צורתן. ועם זה יהיו מדמותן וצלמם ויתקיימו אצלם.