Broken body, eternal soul
TorahParshat Eikev

Broken body, eternal soul

Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11-25

(File photo)
(File photo)

In this week’s Torah portion, we continue to read of Moshe’s final address to the Jewish people. Moshe talks to the people he led for so many years and reminds them of the many experiences they shared.

One of the events he tells of, in vividly moving terms, is breaking the first set of tablets which he received. These tablets were shaped by G-d and contained the Ten Commandments written by G-d’s hand. When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, he saw the Jewish people worshiping the golden calf. He relates, “I grasped the two tablets and I threw them down from my two hands, shattering them before your eyes … ” (9:17)

Moshe then tells of the second set of tablets which he created at G-d’s command. “G-d told me to create new tablets …” These events took place shortly after the Jewish people left Egypt.

After finishing this account, the narrative moves on to an event that took place 40 years later, shortly before entering the land of Israel. “And the Children of Israel traveled from…where Aharon passed away.” (10:6)

The fact that the Torah tells of these two incidents together shows they have something in common. Indeed, Rashi comments, “a Tzaddik’s passing is as difficult for G-d as the breaking of the tablets.” But is it just that these are both sad, painful events? Or is there something more that these two events have in common?

In describing Moshe’s reason for breaking the tablets, the Midrash tells us that upon coming across those who were worshiping the golden calf, “Moshe looked at the tablets and saw that the writing of the commandments had flown away. He said to himself, ‘How can I give the people tablets that have no substance?’ He therefore took them and broke them.”

The tablets had within themselves two aspects: a body, their physical form; and a soul, the words written on them. Moshe understood that the value of the tablets was not just in their physical form, but primarily in the letters and words G-d had inscribed on them. The purpose of the tablets was to provide guidance and imbue meaning into the lives of those who would receive them. Certainly tablets formed by G-d’s hand are special, but without the writing upon them, they lost their identity. They were missing their essential component. They “had no substance” and were “a body without a soul.”

This idea parallels the life of every person. True, the body is a gift from G-d and is holy. We must therefore care for and cherish it. But our true self is our soul. It is that aspect of who we are that we must make our primary focus.

We now understand the connection between the breaking of the tablets and death. When a loved one passes away, certainly it is painful. At the same time, we know that death isn’t the end. The soul, being a spiritual entity, is eternal. Someone may pass on from this world, but their true self, the essence of who they are lives on.

Another important link between these two ideas is that neither loss is permanent. G-d gave the second set of tablets to replace the ones Moshe broke. And one day, very soon, G-d will reunite us with all of the loved ones who have passed on, with the coming of Moshiach. PJC

Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld is the rabbi at the Lubavitch Center and the executive director of Chabad of Western Pennsylvania. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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