Many people do not realize that Moses actually received the Ten Commandments twice. If he did not receive them a second time, we would have no commandments. The first set was destroyed, thrown to the ground by an outraged Moses after he discovered that his people had given up on God and were worshipping an idol. This week, we read about the destruction of the first set of commandments and the receiving of the second set. The second set was placed inside the famous ark that sat in the heart of the desert sanctuary and eventually in the heart of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Legend has it that the original set, the set that was shattered by Moses, was also placed in the ark – along with the whole, intact second set.
For centuries, many have wondered why the shattered fragments of the first tablets containing the 10 Commandments were collected and placed in the ark. Didn’t their shattering make them useless, worthless, profane? Obviously not! They were still considered sacred – worthy of being placed at the center of Judaism alongside the holy second set of commandments. They could have been collected and placed in their own container and kept for safekeeping. But, this is not what Judaism teaches us. The shattered and the whole tablets were treated as equally sacred. Why?
In many respects, each of us is like the holy ark that held the commandments. Inside each of us, there are wonderful characteristics, quality traits, and strengths that make us who we are. At the same time, within each of us, there are shattered fragments that reflect the mistakes we have made, the losses we have experienced, and the failures we wish to forget about. So many of us spend years trying to run from our shattered fragments. We hide them in the dark places of our lives. We deny that they exist. Judaism does not want us to do this. Our shattered fragments are a part of us and, as such, they are holy.
In our world today, where we all strive to be the best and “perfection” is glamorized on the cover of most magazines, the idea that our blemishes and flaws are holy is radical. Judaism certainly expects that we strive to be the best person we can be. However, by telling us that the broken tablets are placed alongside the whole tablets, our tradition teaches us about reality. Nothing and no one is perfect. Even the sacred core of Judaism includes broken pieces.
There is no such thing as a perfect person. The most successful individual has had her share of failures. While we might not be so proud of our failures – they are a part of us. Because of this – they are holy. Judaism wants us to accept this fact, spend less time running from our shattered pieces and embrace them. It is the incredible combination of our whole and broken pieces that define who and what we are. Once we accept this, we will discover that a holy life is not about being perfect, but about learning from the broken and the whole pieces of our lives. It is only by embracing all of our pieces that we truly discover ourselves and realize what it means to be created in the image of God.