Parashat Pekudei

If It's Broken, Why Keep It?

The presence of the broken tablets in the Ark reminds us of the value of objects that may not be functional but signify important relationships.

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Provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordains Conservative rabbis at the American Jewish University.

Ours is a highly practical society. We pride ourselves on our ability to tinker with gadgets, to produce labor-saving devices, fascinating toys that whirl, and spin and entertain. A range of significant inventions--from the light bulb to the organizer, all typify this American delight with technology and efficiency.

Doubtless, those inventions have indeed added to our lives. We are efficient in our work, organized in our homes, offering a higher standard of living to a larger number of people. We think nothing of showing a Hollywood movie in the privacy of our own homes, microwaving the pizza of a world-famous chef (which was stored in our freezer), and listening to a performance of a world-famous conductor on the CD in our living room. All of these conveniences add real pleasure and comfort to the lives of hundred of thousands of people.

And, much as we value these trinkets, when they break, we throw them out. After all, there is no permanent affection between an owner and a car. One car will do as well as the next. The love is with cars in general, not with any specific automobile. Our love for our things is a functional, conditional love. So long as they work, we love them. The minute they stop, we replace them.

Our Functional Love

Our functional love extends beyond replacing broken items. We even plan their obsolescence, or junk them for the latest model before they have given all the service they could. Clothing, cars and homes are all "traded in" well in advance of practical need, simply because we have spotted and desired a larger, more sophisticated, or more recent model.

How surprising, then, that we often feel disconnected, lacking in roots or purpose. How can we, when the obsolescence of things often get applied to relationships as well?

Not so the world of the Torah. In today's Torah portion, after the construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) has been completed, we are told that Moses "took the Tablets and placed it in the Ark." The Rabbis of the Talmud note that the word for Tablets, "Edut," is in the plural.

So imagine their interest (and our surprise) to read elsewhere in the Bible, after the dedication of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, that "there was nothing inside the Ark but the two tablets." If the word "tablet" is already plural, then two of them must mean that Moses placed in two additional tablets beyond the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments! What else could Moses have dared to place beside the two tablets of the Commandments?

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.