Picking up the pieces

  • Rabbi Goldman
“It’s too late.” “I’m too far gone.” “It’ll never be the same...” How many times have we heard those words? Or, worse still, said them?

This week’s parsha tells the story of the Golden Calf, the worst national sin in the history of the Jewish people. How humiliating to the Jews! Just weeks after the greatest revelation of all time, when they saw and heard G-d up front and personal, they go and bow down to a cow?! How fickle can you get?

But the Torah is unflinchingly honest and records this most unflattering moment of ours in all its gory detail.


Perhaps the very important lessons we need to draw from this embarrassing episode are, firstly, that people do sin, human beings do make mistakes, and even inspired Jews who saw the Divine can mess up - badly. And, secondly, that even afterwards there is still hope, no matter what.

In the very same parsha we read how G-d tells Moshe to carve out a second set of tablets to replace the first set he smashed when he came down the mountain and was shocked by what the Jews had got up to.

The Torah does not intend to diminish our respect for that generation, but rather to help us understand human frailty, our moral weakness and the reality of relationships, spiritual or otherwise.

G-d gave us a perfect Torah. The tablets were hand-made by G-d, pure and sacred, and then we messed up. So, is it all over? Is there really no hope now? Are we beyond redemption? After all, what could possibly be worse than idolatry?

We broke the first two commandments and the tablets were shattered into smithereens because we were no longer worthy to have them. It was the ultimate infidelity.

So, Torah teaches that all is not lost. As bad as it was - and it was bad - it is possible for man to repair the damage. Moshe will make new tablets. They won’t be quite the same as G-d’s, but there will be tablets nonetheless. We can pick up the pieces of life. Hope springs eternal.

I once heard a good vort from a colleague about the significance of breaking the glass under the chuppah. Besides never forgetting Jerusalem and praying for her full restoration, this ceremony teaches a very important lesson about life to a bride and groom who are about to embark on their own new path in life.

What happens immediately after the groom breaks the glass? Everyone shouts mazeltov! The message is clear. Something broke? Nu, it’s not the end of the world. We can even laugh about it and still be happy. Nisht geferlich. Lo nora. This too shall pass. A very practical, peace-keeping tip for the new couple.

There are second chances in life. It is possible to pick up the pieces in life. Whether it’s our relationships with G-d, our marriage partners, our kids, our friends or our colleagues, we can make amends and repair the damage. Falling off a horse or a bicycle dare not mean that we never ride again.

If the Jews could recover from the Golden Calf, our own challenges are small indeed.


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