Moses and The Tablets – Old Story, New Light

Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

Picture it. The 1st of Elul on the Sinai Peninsula, approximately 1,312 BCE.

We’ll begin our story at the point where Moses/Moshe descends Mt Sinai with the tablets given to him by GD. What does Moshe find after spending 40 days and 40 nights up on the mountain top with GD? He finds the Israelites and his brother Aaron/Aharon, the High Priest, partying with the golden calf.

To add insult to injury, Aaron tells him “I don’t know what happened. We just threw some gold into the fire and a golden calf came out.” Have you ever had an ‘Aaron moment” where you blurted out the most ludicrous excuse imaginable when caught red-handed?

Moses gets all verflempt (distressed) and smashes the stone tablets onto the ground. Moses smashed something precious and priceless inscribed by the “finger of GD” and the Divine creator of all things! If there was ever an oy gevalt moment this it! Could it get any worse? Sounds like a worst case scenario to me!

Takeaway אחת (One): At some point, we’ve all had a knee-jerk reaction which caused us to break something priceless and precious to us — be it a relationship, a connection or an opportunity. When Moses broke the tablets inscribed by GD it would seem all was farfallon (hopeless), yet it was not. Moses went to GD and fessed up. What does GD say? GD tells Moses to carve a new set of stone tablets and bring them up Mt Sinai to be inscribed.

Takeaway שׂתיים (Two): Even when we break something precious and priceless to us, there is hope. Through earnest dialogue we may be granted an opportunity to turn brokenness into wholeness and rewrite the story with a different ending, as Moses was. However, if we pay close attention, there is a difference the second time around. The first time, GD did all the work, handing Moses a ready-made set of take-out tablets. After Moses smashed the tablets, he was given the task of carving out a new set of tablets and carrying them up the mountain to be inscribed.

Takeaway שׂלושׂ (Three): When we are given a shot at a do-over we have to be invested in the outcome. Not only that, it has to be a collaborative effort with the others involved. The do-over required Moses to have some skin in the game, in a way he did not have before. Just as Moses got out his tools to hand-carve a new set of tablets, we have to put some emotional ‘elbow grease’ into our do-overs.

Moses does the work as GD instructed, then spends another 40 days and 40 nights on Har Sinai communing with GD. Here’s where it gets a bit murky, with two different Hebrew verses. The way they read, it could have been GD or Moses who inscribed the new tablets. Moses descends Har Sinai with new tablets he labored to create, possibly doing all the work himself the second time around.

When Moses descends the mountain with the new set of tablets, his face was so radiant it frightened the Israelite people! Moses looked like he had sunbeams bouncing off his head!

Takeaway ארבע (Four): The way Moses looked on the outside, is the way we feel on the inside when we are given an opportunity to rewrite a story with a different ending. When we have a chance to turn brokenness into wholeness, we are just as radiant on the inside as Moses looked on the outside! We don’t frighten people (hopefully), but the radiance we feel inside also shows up on our face.

So what happened to the smashed set of tablets? Were they buried? Thrown away? Left to erode in the elements? None of the above. Midrash tells us the broken tablets were placed in the Aron HaBrit — The Ark Of The Covenant, in the Holy Of Holies, where GD was believed to dwell, right alongside the new, intact set of tablets.

Takeaway חמשׂ (Five): Even when we feel broken we are still just as sacred as those who seem to have it all together without any visible cracks. We have all felt broken sometimes. Many of us have been told we are broken and that became our internal narrative. Yet no matter how broken we feel, we have an sacred place in the holy scheme of things, right alongside the people who seem to be whole and intact.

The root words of Shalom (peace) are shelem v’ shlemut — completeness and wholeness. Peace is the Wholeness that comes from knowing we have a sacred place in the world, right smack dab in the midst of our brokenness.

As person with C-PTSD, I often feel marginalized, inside and outside my religious community. I know I’m not alone. We are here to remind each other of our sacredness.

This space is our Ark Of The Covenant and our Holy of Holies. The name of this Parsha is Ki Tisa, which means, ‘when you raise up.’ We’re here to raise each other up. Within the safety of this sacred circle we can rewrite our narratives and turn brokenness into wholeness.


The first time I gave this d’var Torah, a man told me he had heard the story of Moses breaking the tablets a million times, but this was the first time it had a meaning that was truly relatable to his understanding of life. Feedback like that is why I do this work. I will always be grateful for the blessing of those words.

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