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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According to the Talmud, the answer is that "both the whole tablets and the fragments of the tablets were placed together in the Ark."  Remember when Moses returned to the children of Israel, carrying the first tablets with the Ten Commandments? He was so outraged by the idolatry of the Golden Calf, that he shattered the tablets on the ground. After the people had repented of their sin, Moses returned to the peak of the Mountain, where God presented a second pair of tablets.

Typically American

So far, the story is typically American--the outmoded commandments were trashed and a new, sleeker model was substituted in its place. But the Talmud tells us that something very un-American had actually transpired, that the love the Jews felt for that first pair of tablets was not simply because of their function, but something unconditional--bestowed not for what their use could be, but for what they would always represent.

Think of your feelings for your wedding ring. Chances are strong that in the course of your lifetime, you will be able to purchase more elaborate, more expensive rings. Yet, your love for that original plain gold band is not simply because it can adorn your finger. We love our wedding bands because they remind us of a momentous and happy day in our lives, they signify the most important relationship we will ever have with another human being. Those rings are irreplaceable.

That is precisely our relationship to those first tablets. Moses saved them both, the shattered and the whole, to remind us that not everything is there for a practical purpose. To the contrary, some of the most important things in life are not especially "useful" in the practical sense. Rather, we treasure those objects that can signify happy times, important relationships or essential values.

Next time you are in a synagogue, or involved in Jewish ritual, don't ask, "What can this do for me?" That's an appropriate question for a light bulb or an instamatic camera. Instead, ask, "What values, memories or deed of lovingkindness can this kindle in my heart?" That is the question to ask of our faith and our Heritage.

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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.