"There is nothing more whole than a broken heart." -- Hassidic saying

In the beginning of Parashat Pekudei we read the final description of what items the Israelites needed to build the Mishkan (tabernacle).  The description concludes by calling the Mishkan a Mishkan HaEdut “tabernacle of witness.” (Ex. 38:21)  But what was the Mishkan witnessing?   Shemot Rabbah teaches; “Said R. Simeon, son of R. Ishmael: It is a testimony to the whole world that there is forgiveness for Israel.”  We know that God dwelled in the Mishkan, so the fact that God gave us the Mishkan and dwelled within it was a witness to the fact that S/He had forgiven us from the sin of the egel hazahav (golden calf) which happened in last week’s parasha

The Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, 1871-1905), a Hassidic master, teaches the following:  “Why did they need this witness?  Israel had been deeply disgraced by that sin.  Now, God gave the [people] the tabernacle as witness, in order to strengthen their hearts, to show that they had indeed repaired the damage wrought by their sin.”  The Sefat Emet goes on to explain that the sin of the egel hazahav had really been because of the influence of the “mixed multitude” that came out with the Israelites from Egypt and was thus incidental to who they were.   He says, “The rabbis in fact teach that ‘Israel were not deserving of such a sin; it came upon them only to teach the way of teshuvah (repentance).’  It came to teach every person who returns not to let himself fall too low in his own eyes, for by teshuvah we really are restored to what we were before.” 

Sometimes we act in ways that are not really from the source of our own true essence or soul.  In these cases, we are like bnai Yisrael (the people of Israel) when we committed the sin of the egel.  Maybe we were influenced by those around us, like the “mixed multitude” or maybe we are motivated by fear like bnai Yisrael was when they got worried that Moshe would not come back to them from Har Sinai.  Whatever the reason, when we start to think lowlier of ourselves than we should, this causes us to grow even further from God.  The guilt becomes an impediment to our own spiritual development as our entire self identity comes into question.  According to the Sefat Emet, the sin was actually a teaching tool for bnai Yisrael, to show us the power of teshuvah—that when we go through the process of teshuvah that we become as whole as we were before the sin.  Much of Hassidic teaching even emphasizes that we become more whole than before we sinned.

This is the meaning of the Hassidic saying, “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”  When we come before God in a broken state and cry out for help to become more fully ourselves, we allow for the opportunity that we will emerge more whole than we were previously.  The Sefat Emet ends his commentary on this beautiful note, “That is why Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness and atonement, is followed by the sukkah, another indwelling of Shekhina (presence of God) in the Temple.  This gives strength to all who return, telling them they are worthy to have Shekhina dwell upon them.” 

Shemot Rabbah on our parasha teaches a beautiful allegory about God’s forgiveness of bnai Yisrael and His/Her return to us through the symbol of the Mishkan.  “R. Isaac said: It can be compared to a king who took a wife whom he loved very dearly. In the course of time he became angry with her and deserted her, and her neighbors taunted her, saying, ‘He will no longer return to you.’ Subsequently, the king sent her a message: ‘Prepare my palace and make the beds, for I am coming back to you on such-and-such a day’; and when that day arrived, the king returned unto her and became reconciled to her, entering her chamber and eating and drinking with her. Her neighbors at first would not believe all this; but when they scented the fragrant spices, they at once knew that the king had become reconciled unto her.”  In this allegory we see the great love that God has for us, and the beauty of the “make-up reunion” between God and Israel.  We can be reassured that if God returned to love bnai Yisrael after the egel hazahav, a grievous sin committed right after hearing the miracle of God speak the Torah, the S/He will also forgive us our sins, whatever they may be. 

(English Translation of Sefat Emet courtesy of Dr. Rabbi Arthur Green)