It is probably one of the greatest sins that the Jewish people have ever committed, if not the greatest.
40 days after receiving the Torah and experiencing a direct encounter with G-d, the formative spiritual event of our people’s history, Am Yisrael commit the unthinkable. They build a golden calf, and serve it- betraying their newly established relationship with Hashem in the most blatant way possible.
The sight of Am Yisrael serving the golden calf was so jarring, it caused Moshe to, of his own volition, to throw down and shatter the two Luchot that had been written by G-d and given to him on behalf the people.
For future generations, the sin is so fundamentally egregious, that the Gemara Sanhedrin 102a says that “there is no punishment that befalls the Jewish people that does not have in it some retribution for the sin of the Golden calf.”
Given the gravity of the sin, logic would dictate that once Am Yisrael are able to attain G-d’s forgiveness, they would want to rid ourselves of any reminder of this dark period in our communal history. One would think that they would take the broken tablets, the symbol of their disloyalty to G-d, and either destroy them completely or hide them somewhere forever. Why would they want to remind ourselves, or G-d, of our blunder ever again?
And yet- G-d commands the exact opposite. The Gemara says that Moshe was commanded to put the broken tablets, together with the new set of whole tablets, into the Aron, in the Holiest of Holies. Far from being hidden away or destroyed, these broken tablets belong in the Holiest place on earth, front and center.
Why? Why give these luchot such prominence?
Rav Tzadok of Lublin notes an incredibly powerful lesson that emerges from the G-d’s decision to place the broken luchot inside the Aron. We are meant to realize that our past mistakes are a fundamental part of who we are- and that they shape the people we are today. Rather than being ashamed of our past iniquities, we should see them as an important step in our growth and development. While we would never knowingly sin or make these mistakes- they are a crucial stage in our growth, and should be viewed as part of our learning curve. Although the broken luchot were a reminder of a painful past mistake- Hashem commands Moshe to keep them “front and center”, so that the Jewish nation would remember that the sin and its aftermath served in retrospect as an important steppingstone towards shaping the nation’s character – and, therefore, the broken luchot were in fact worthy of being preserved and kept.
I believe that this powerful idea is extremely important for us as parents working to raise the next generation.
First of all, as parents we must remember that it is okay to make mistakes. No one is perfect, and there is no handbook of how to raise kids properly. All we can do is be mindful and thoughtful about how we parent, and do our absolute best. And when we inevitably make a mistake, we should recognize our mistake, own up to it, and learn from it. Rather than being in denial or trying to forget our parental mistakes, we must recognize such mistakes for what they are- opportunities to learn from, and through which we can grow in our ability as parents moving forward.
Secondly, there is a natural inclination for us to want to constantly help our children, and to shield them from making mistakes- especially when they make the same mistakes that we made growing up. It’s hard to see our precious child struggle or suffer. We feel pulled to intervene and help them. It’s important to remember, however, that making mistakes is a part of life- and something that our children must experience and learn from. If we shield them from mistakes or errors when they are younger, they will never develop the capability of dealing with failure and frustration, important skills crucial to their maturity and development. It is important for us to fight our natural urge and step back from the situation, allowing our kids to navigate the situation themselves, and learn from their own missteps. In this way, they will truly grow through all aspects of their life- both the successes and the failures.
Together with this, of course, we must help our kids realize that as painful as the mistakes and failures are, they are part of their process of growth, and that they play a role in shaping the people they become. We have to help our kids learn to place their “broken luchot” in their purview- recognizing that they, too, are part of the learning process.
Following the worst national sin in our nation’s history, G-d commands Moshe to place the broken luchot, symbols of this national calamity, in the Holiest of Holies- remaining in full view of the nation consistently. The powerful message that G-d thereby relays is one of accepting our past mistakes and using them as building blocks for continued growth. This important message is one that we must remember as parents as well- developing the capacity to learn and grow from our mistakes, while also giving our children the space to learn from theirs as well.