WHOLE AND BROKEN
Former Prime Minister, Tony Blair spoke very movingly at one of the memorial events for the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He mentioned how they had studied bible together. I recall Rabbi Lord Sacks once recounting a question that Tony Blair had asked him: Why is there so much detail in the passages dealing with the Tabernacle, when this was only of temporary use? What would you have said? Rabbi Sacks’ answer was stunning in its simplicity. He pointed out that it only takes the bible thirty-four verses to create a universe but it takes hundreds of verses for the construction of the Tabernacle. He said it is not difficult for an infinite G-d to create a home for man. It is a much bigger challenge for a finite man to build a home for an infinite G-d. It is through examining the details of these verses we can learn how to build our world.
The centerpiece of the Tabernacle was the Ark. “Inside the Ark,” instructs G-d, “place the tablets of the covenant that I will give you.” (Shemot 25:16)
The Talmud teaches us something beautiful. Not only were the tablets of stone put in the Ark, but the first set, that Moses broke when he saw the sin of the golden calf, were also placed there. The Rabbis derive from this that we should show sensitivity to the elderly sage who has forgotten his learning. His intellect may be fractured, but his dignity should be kept intact. (Talmud Berachot 8a).
Rabbi Elijah de Vidas, one of the great mystics of Safed in the 16th century, sees the Ark as the symbol of the human heart. Fragmented tablets refer not just to scholarship that has been forgotten but also to the broken parts of our personalities. The metaphor of the Ark containing the complete and broken tablets, is that we can be both whole and broken at the same time.
As we continue to struggle during this pandemic, so many of us are carrying broken pieces. Whether it is the loss of a loved one or bouts of illness; the strain of home schooling or the stress of business problems; the pressure of cabin fever or the loneliness of isolation. So much fragmentation in our lives.
Placing the broken and whole tablets side by side in the Ark is an acknowledgement that the shards of our life do not have to be ignored or supressed. Moses spent time collecting every broken fragment and carefully and lovingly preserved them in the Ark.
Broken pieces can make a mosaic. We have been touched by the warmth of friendship. We have been moved by the gestures of those who have reached out to us. Our hearts are both broken and wholesome. We have experienced pain but we have also known comfort. Recognising the reality of what we all have gone through, can sensitise us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other. That way, we can repair that which is broken.