Updated: Oct 9, 2022
“And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.”
Exodus 25:16 JPS 1917
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam,
asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu laasok b’divrei Torah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot,
commanding us to engage with words of Torah.
Is there any value in having a broken spirit and being disheartened? No doubt the experience of brokenness is painful and heart-wrenching. Brokenness may be the result of an injured relationship with a person you love. Brokenness may come because of violating God’s standards and which strains your relationship with God. For some a state of brokenness develops over time. It is not one major event that happens but a series of smaller incidents that accumulate and eventually a person comes overwhelmed and may feel marginalized by others and even God.
3 Sources of Brokenness
Life can be full of challenges. These challenges may be physical in nature such as a terminal illness or loss of function due to an accident or simply because of age. The challenge you face may be emotional in nature due to a mental health concerns, death of a loved one, caregiver burnout, loss of a job, financial struggles, fractured relationships, or divorce. For many, one of the most painful challenges is the health of our spiritual life. Spiritual brokenness may be the product of our own sin or happen within our community of faith. Regardless of the reason, spiritual brokenness may be the most painful because we feel a separation our community or even God.
Brokenness within Community
Being a member of a religious community is not easy. Although our faith communities believe in and teach sound values and principles to live by, the community is made up of human beings. As humans we are on a spiritual journey together, but we are not all on the same path. Tensions rise and disagreements happen. In these times we must do our best to remember we come to the Lord’s house to pray, learn, worship and to fellowship. God’s house should be the one place safe enough to work through our differences. Painfully, this is not always the case.
Brokenness and Wholeness within the Same Heart
At the same time, we experience turmoil in one area of life other areas continue to be whole. Both wholness and brokenness may coexist in the same person. On the one hand, we may have a strong marriage, the best job, adequate income, and live-in comfortable quarters, while at the same time be part of a congregation in turmoil that tears our heart apart! On the other hand, we may be a member of a strong community of faith, while at the same time hate waking up and going to our job. We may feel whole, respected, and valued in one domain of our life and feel broken, disconnected, and unwanted in another area of our life.
Whether the fractured relationship is with God or a loved one, there are moments when we ask the question: Can this be fixed? Can this relationship be mended? Can this covenant be restored? Is there any hope? In every situation regardless of how hard it is, we can turn or return to the Lord for mending that broken heart and direction on restoring a strained relationship. Here is my advice if your relationship with another person needs mending. Do you recall who said this? I leave it to you to find the source.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Covenant not Contract
Notice in Exodus 25:16 the language of “tablets” is not used. Rather the solemn agreement between Man and God is rendered, “the testimony.” What is the Ark testifying to? The tablets written by the hand of God gave witness to the agreement between God and mankind (Exodus 24:3-11). Notice the term used is covenant not contract. Covenant language is often misunderstood in the modern world.
The recently freed Hebrew slaves of Egypt were familiar with covenant language. The near eastern covenant was a treaty between two parties whereby the more powerful king (suzerain) offered a lower, less powerful, and weaker vassal an opportunity for an alliance. The powerful king would propose to the weaker a proposition that he would offer protection from foreign invaders, internal revolts and grant the vassal a unique status and relationship with the king and the kingdom. The catch for such a deal? The subjects must agree to all the terms and conditions of the treaty. What were the terms? The weaker, lower vassal would be loyal and give allegiance to the king, pay a yearly tribute, and offer military assistance when the king needed it. Covenants in the ancient near east were always sealed with the blood of a sacrificial animal. “Originally the covenant was a bond of life-fellowship, where the mingling of the blood was deemed essential.” For more details on covenants can be found at https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4714-covenant
The covenant tablets within the Ark testifies that the Hebrews, at the foot of mount Sinai, entered into a covenant relationship with Adonai. Exodus 24:3 (JPS 1917) recalls the testimony of the Hebrews.
And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the ordinances;
and all the people answered with one voice, and said:
‘All the words which the Lord hath spoken will we do.’
Unfortunately, within forty days of the affirmation of the agreement, the Israelites violated the first term of the covenant – to “have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Can you imagine how Moses felt? In the incident of the golden calf Moses was not at fault. Aaron, Moses’ older brother by three years, coupled with the influence of the mixed multitudes and some impatient Hebrews, created a calf from the golden earrings they wore. The construction of a golden calf was evidence the people recently freed from physical bondage in Egypt still has a lot of Egypt within their hearts. Spiritually, the calf represented the Egyptian god Apis – the bull.
Exodus 32:1-4 JPS 1917
And when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him: ‘Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.’ And Aaron said unto them: ‘Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.’ And all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: ‘This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
The fractured covenant was restored, and the relationship, instead of being terminated, remained intact. Moses did as God instructed. Moses returned to the place where the covenant was first enacted. Unlike the first set, Moses had to carve out the new tablets with his own hands and then God would rewrite the words on the renewed stones. You will notice the 10 Commandments in this picture are blue or Lapis in color. The reason for this choice will be discussed in a future blog.
Second Set of Tablets?
The Bible does not reveal what happened to the broken tablets given on mount Sinai. We only know the second set of tablets were stored in the Ark of the Covenant. In his article, The Broken Tablets, Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, references the Talmud to answer the question of the location of the smashed tablets. For the whole article see: The Broken Tablets (aish.com)
"Whatever became of the tablets smashed by Moses? The Talmud answers: The broken tablets were placed in the holy Ark along with the second, intact set ; ‘luchot ve’shivrey luchot munachim be’aron”(Talmud Bava Batra 14b). The broken tablets were not buried, which is what we generally do with holy items no longer in use. They were placed in the most sacred place, in the Aaron Hakodesh, the holy Ark. Eventually they sat next to the second tablets, the whole set of the Ten Commandments. Together they remained securely protected as the nation journeyed through the wilderness."
The evidence of God’s forgiveness is attested by the new tablets being placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. Why were the broken tablets placed alongside the new tablets? Both sets of tablets testified to the fact that God’s covenant was not changed, nor the words altered because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The second set of tablets remind all that forgiveness is possible and the covenant relationship can be restored.
How Do We Resolve Brokenness?
Like the broken tablets in the Ark, our mind recalls the occasions and the reasons why our relationship become fractured with God. The accuser of our souls reminds us in painful detail the words spoken, or the deeds done that injured the relationship. We have a choice to make. We can either remain in a state of covenant unfaithfulness and spiritual pain or like Moses, we can return again to a place in our heart where the covenant once written by Adonai can be re-written. Restoration comes through genuine repentance.
The Hebrew root for repentance is shuv. Shuv is generally understood as a word that indicates motion, a change in direction. Metaphorically, we change direction or do a “180” when we repent for wrongdoing. However, there's another meaning for the root shuv. Shuv can also mean to "return." When we have a contrite heart and turn to the Lord in repentance, we are returning to our commitment to be in covenant with God, a holy relationship between the creature and The Creator!
HOW do we return? First, we must first be Humble before God and be honest that we are the ones at fault; we disrupted the relationship. Second, we must be Open to receive correction from godly sources. When David, plotted to be with Bathsheba, the Lord send Nathan the prophet to speak truth into his life. David had to hear it! He could not allow his position in life to shield himself from the truth. No matter our status this is not an easy task. Third, we must be Willing to repent, to do a 180 and change the course of our behavior that led to the sin. Psalm 51 is a testimony that King David heard the prophet humbled himself before God, was open to correction, and willingly repented of his wrongdoing – without excuse!
Psalm 51:1-6; 12-14 JPS 1917
For the Leader. A Psalm of David;
when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone into Bath-Sheba.
Be gracious unto me, O God, according to Thy mercy;
according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions;
and my sin is ever before me.
Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in Thy sight;
that Thou mayest be justified when Thou speakest,
and be in the right when Thou judgest.
Create me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presence;
and take not Thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation;
and let a willing spirit uphold me.
The theme of genuine repentance and returning once again is captured in one of my favorite songs, “Return Again,” composed by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. No matter how deep the fracture. No matter how painful the injury. No matter how far the distance. We can always return to the Lord.
R’ Shlomo Carlebach Z”L- Lev Echad
Return again, return again Return to the land of your Soul Return again, return again Return to the land of your Soul.
Return to who you are, return to what you are Return to where you were Born and reborn again.
To hear Neshama Carlebach sing this powerful song click the link below provided to YouTube by The Orchard Enterprises Return Again · Neshama Carlebach Journey ℗ 2010 Sojourn Records Released on: 2010-04-30.