God was furious. Although Moses successfully argued that God not destroy the Children of Israel, and God reconsidered what He intended to do, God was still angry. The intense debate ended. There was a moment of silence. Moses did not know what to expect next. Would Moses be allowed to hold on to the Tablets for the Children of Israel who violated their covenant with God by building the Golden Calf? God does not say another word. He doesn’t provide any instruction. He does not speak of the forty days and nights that He and Moses spent studying together. He does not say goodbye. Moshe turned away and descended the mountain with the precious Tablets still in his hand.
God was angry, but God continued to love these difficult people.
Moses wanted the people to see the Tablets and understand that God was presenting them with the most significant physical expression of His love for them despite being angry. He stood above the camp with the Tablets held high in his hands even as he watched them dance with abandon around their Golden Calf. He waited until they noticed his return, the one they questioned. He waited until they could see the Divine gift he held in his hands.
The people stopped what they were doing and watched in silence. Some were busy mentally justifying their behavior. Others, who refused to take a stand against the dancers, were ashamed. The people who were not directly involved were confused. They all looked from the Tablets to the Golden Calf and back to the Tablets. They understood that the two could not coexist. The Tablets represented relationship. The idol was an expression of self-involvement.
At that moment, Moses came down the mountain with the Tablets in his hands, causing that people to wonder if they would be permitted to keep the gift even after all they had done, but then, Moses shattered the Tablets at the foot of the mountain.
The relationship with God was damaged but not broken. “Moses would take the tent and pitch it outside the camp. Whoever it was that sought God would go out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp.” (Exodus 33:7) God’s Presence was outside the camp, but was not inaccessible. This was a real relationship with anger and shame, distance and pain, and also love and reconciliation. They could go out to the Tent of Meeting and pick up the broken pieces and begin the process of healing.
The Broken Tablets served a great purpose. They taught us that our relationship with God is real, demands work, and survives hurtful behaviors. This is not a relationship of all or nothing, but one of give and take, of distance and reconnection, a powerful mix of anger and intense love. In a way, the Broken Tablets are more important than the Second Tablets. They are the key to an intense relationship that continues to thrive.
The pieces are still there waiting for us to pick them up one by one as we continue to work on this very real relationship.
Shabbat Shalom and Shaleim (showered with the blessing to gather & reconnect all the pieces).
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg