The Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Abraham Mordecai Alter (3rd from left), with a group of Chassidim.
G-d and a Tailor
A gentlemen gave a pair of pants to the tailor and had to wait three weeks to pick it up. When he finally arrived to take his pants, he said to the tailor, "It didn't even take G-d that long to create the world!" The tailor replied, "How can you compare?"
"I descended from the mountain. The mountain was still burning with fire and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. I immediately saw that you had sinned to G-d, making a cast calf. You were so quick to turn from the path that G-d had prescribed. "I grasped the two tablets, and threw them down from my two hands, and I smashed them before your eyes." (Deuteronomy 9:15-17, Torah portion of this week)
I want to share with you the following story (1):
After the war, a Holocaust survivor came to visit his one-time spiritual master, the famed Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (2).
This broken Jew was deported to the death camps together with his wife, children, relatives and entire community. The man's wife and children were gassed, his relatives decimated and his entire community wiped put. He emerged from the ashes a lonely man in a vast world that had silently swallowed the blood of six million Jews.
The Jew lost one more thing in the camps: his G-d. After what he experienced on his own flesh, he could not continue believing in a G-d who allowed for an Auschwitz.
Although after the war he made aliyah to Eretz Yisroel (Israel), he completely abandoned Jewish practice and observance. Yet he missed his old Rebbe and went to visit him in Tel Aviv.
The Gerer Rebbe himself lost large chunks of his family in the Holocaust. In addition, nearly all of his 250,000 followers were wiped out by the Germans. The Rebbe of Ger and some members of his immediate family managed to escape Warsaw in 1940 and arrived in Eretz Yisroel soon afterUpon hearing the story of his disciple, the Rebbe of Ger broke into sobs.
The man and his Rebbe sat together mourning what they had lost. After a long period of weeping, the Gerer Rebbe wiped his tears and said -- in Yiddish - the following:
"Before Your Eyes"
In his farewell address to his people, Moses recounts the moment when he descended from the Sinai Mountain with the two Divine tablets to present to the Jewish people: "I descended from the mountain," Moses recalls, "the mountain was still burning with fire and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. I immediately saw that you had sinned to G-d, making a cast calf. You were so quick to turn from the path that G-d had prescribed. "I grasped the two tablets, and threw them down from my two hands, and I smashed them before your eyes."
Moses proceeds to relate how after much toil he succeeded in "persuading" G-d to forgive the Jewish people for their sin. He then carved out a second pair of tablets to replace the smashed first ones.
Though the two sets were identical in content, containing the Ten Commandments, the second pair did not possess the same Divine magic and splendor as the first tablets, which were defined in the Torah (3) as being a product of "G-d's handiwork and G-d's script." Now, considering the well-known meticulousness of each word in the Bible, Moses' words "I smashed them before your eyes" seem superfluous. Suppose Moses had turned around and broken the tablets out of view would that in anyway have lessened the tragedy? Why did Moses find it important to emphasize that the breaking occurred "before your eyes" (4)?
What Moses was saying, explained the Rebbe of Ger, was that "I smashed the tablets only before your eyes." The shattering of the tablets occurred only before your eyes and from your own vantage point. In reality, there exists a world in which the tablets have never been broken.
"As hard as it is for you and I to believe," the Rebbe concluded, "I want you to know that the decimation of our families, our communities and our people occurred only 'before our eyes.' There remains a world in which the Jewish people are wholesome and complete. Beneath the surface of our perception there exists a reality in which every single Jew from Abraham till today is perfectly alive.
"The day will come," said the Rebbe of Ger, "when that world will be exposed. Hashem will mend our broken tablets and our broken nation. We will discover how the tablets were really never broken and the Jewish people were always complete."
Many of us once owned a set of sacred tablets that at some point in our lifewere destroyed.
It may have been the death of a mother or father at a young age, bringing to an abrupt end the nurturing and security a child so desperately needs from parents. It may have been any other form of pain and loss that we experienced during our life which robbed us of the love and joy we once called our own. Many of us create for ourselves a second pair of "tablets" in order to substitute for the first ones that were lost. But they are not quite the same. The second set of "tablet" lack the magic and the innocence of the original "tablets" that no longer exist. In the depth of our hearts we crave to reclaim something of the wonder of the old tablets. But it is to no avail: The clock of life never turns back.
The tailor does have a point: Our world and our lives are not as elegant and beautiful as we would have craved them to be.
Here lay the empowering message of Moses to his beloved people before his own demise: There is a secret world in which your first tablets were never broken. Notwithstanding the abuse and pain we experienced, we each possess a tiny corner in our soul which forever remains invincible, pure and sacred.
At every moment of our lives we may enter into that sacred space and reclaim the magic and the innocence of our inner complete world.
1) I read the story in a sermon by Rabbi C. M. Weinberger, spiritual leader of Aish Kodesh community in woodmere.
2) Rabbi Avraham Mordechai (born in 1866), known as the Imrei Emes, was the third Rebbe of Ger and passed away in 1948 in Jerusalem. The City was under siege at the time, so he was buried in the courtyard of his yeshiva. Currently, his grandson, Rabbi Yakkov Altar, serves as the spiritual leader of this Chassidic movement.
3) Exodus 32:16.
4) Cf. Abarbanel to Deuteronomy 9:17. Likkutei Sichos vol. 9 p. 241; vol. 26 p. 252. My gratitude to Shmuel Levin, a writer and editor in Pittsburgh, for his editorial assistance.