Picking up the pieces

  • Parshas Ki Tetze - Rabbi Yossi Goldman
“It’s too late. I’m too far gone.” How many times have we heard those words? Or, worse still, said them?
by Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul | Mar 12, 2020

This week, we read the story of the Golden Calf, the worst national sin in the history of the Jewish people. Now, frankly, if I were the editor of the Bible, I’d have left that part out. 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, first, that people do sin, human beings do make mistakes, and even inspired Jews who saw the divine can mess up – badly. And, second, even afterwards, there’s still hope, no matter what.

In the same chapter, we read how G-d tells Moses 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 been up to. The Torah doesn’t intend to diminish our respect for that generation, but rather help us to understand human frailty, 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? It was the ultimate infidelity.

So, the Torah teaches us that all is not lost. As bad as it was – and it was bad – it’s possible for man to repair the damage. Moses 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 in life. Hope springs eternal.

I once heard a good vort (Torah insight) 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 breaks? Nu, it’s not the end of the world! We can even laugh about it, and still be happy. This too shall pass. A very practical, peace-keeping tip for the new couple.

It’s possible to pick up the pieces in life. Whether it’s our relationship 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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