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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash


Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Parshat Ki Tisa is one of the most difficult parshiyot as we read about the Golden Calf and the breaking of the tablets. Also found in Ki Tisa is the first of a number of censuses, the artistry of Betzalel, the Sabbath and the radiant appearance of Moses after he descended from the mountain.

When studying in order to write this week I was intrigued by the commentary on the breaking of the tablets. I have been daydreaming about the concept of brokenness. What does it mean to be broken as an individual and as a nation? I can't help but thinking about Turkey and Syria, about broken governments and broken people and their recovery from disasters.

The thought that a soul that is broken serves as a home for the Shechina, God's presence on earth is comforting. R. Eliyahu deVidash, writes in Gate of Holiness 7; "The Zohar teaches that the human heart is the Ark. And it is known that in the Ark were stored both the Tablets and the Broken Tablets. Similarly, a person’s heart must be full of Torah… and similarly, a person’s heart must be a broken heart, a beaten heart, so that it can serve as a home for the Shekhina. For the Shekhina [divine presence] only dwells in broken vessels, which are the poor, whose heart is a broken and beaten heart. And whoever has a haughty heart propels the Shekhina from him, as it says “God detests those of haughty hearts”.

Another intriguing explanation comes from D'Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, where he writes that the letters that were carved into the stone tablets were living and supporting Moses and the tablets as they descended the mountain. Upon hearing the shouts coming from below, the letters made themselves heavy so that Moses could no longer carry them and he threw them from his hands and the letters and tablets fell under the mountain.

This is a post in two parts. Rather than make each of the a different post, I have combined them because part two is an experiment on my part. Part one, The Firefly, talks briefly about the question of brokenness whether brokenness lasts forever, while part two, And the Letters Became Heavy is a visual midrash using the Pirkei D' Rabbi Eliezer midrash along with my own short piece about letters and their power. The yellow column is my writing, the green column is from Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer. All the rest is commentary.

I am writing on this on Purim....a time of brokenness and then light again. Chag Sameach!


Part one:

As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.

וַֽיְהִ֗י כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר קָרַב֙ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הָעֵ֖גֶל וּמְחֹלֹ֑ת וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיַּשְׁלֵ֤ךְ מִיָּדָו֙ אֶת־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת וַיְשַׁבֵּ֥ר אֹתָ֖ם תַּ֥חַת הָהָֽר׃ Exodus 32:19


Broken doesn’t mean forever.

The firefly knows that.

Each time her light is extinguished

the world stops,

but it begins again

With a flash

the space is illuminated.

The light is tiny,

but luminescence has returned.

There are a multitude


moments of brokenness.

Weeks, months, years even.

Profound brokenness.

It may be you.

It may be me.

It may be a set of hopes,

a set of beliefs.

It may be a neighborhood,

a ruined village,

a broken people.

It may be a shattered nation

or a entire planet

who lie broken in the rubble.

So many pieces.

So little time.

If broken meant forever

life would be so very narrow.

Instead of light,

darkness would abound

and, yet, there is still light.

It is only through brokenness

that fixes come.

Shards slowly, painstakingly collected

maybe it will be tomorrow,

or maybe next year.

Maybe longer,

but it will come.

Broken windows painstakingly repaired.

Shattered tablets rewritten.

Broken hearts slowly healed.

It is through fixes that

we see the world illuminated

once again.

Just ask a firefly.


Part two:

The Letters Became Heavy:

A comparative Midrash


I found this study sheet on Sefaria really inspiring and it is on this study sheet that this page is based.

It was compiled by Dianne Cohler-Esses for a Romemu Beit Midrash.

I always look forward to Matan's Women Talk Torah enlightening.

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