Smashing the Tablets

Disassembling and Reassembling Torah for a New Generation

When it comes to retelling the story of Sinai, in children’s books, museum masterpieces, Hollywood movies and holiday sermons the focus is almost always on the scene where Moshe receives the tablets from God on top of the mountain. That’s understandable; it’s an awesome moment. But the part I’ve always found more compelling is what comes after: Moshe throws down the tablets and shatters them. Now that’s drama! What was Moshe thinking? 

In an astounding Midrash, the ancient rabbis portray Moshe’s act as the quintessence of loyalty – to the people, that is – but, if we think about it, also to God, by teaching God a lesson about continuity and community.  

Avot D’Rabbi Natan retells the story this way. It says:

Moshe took the tablets of the commandments and started descending the mountain, happy and excited. When he saw the offense the Israelites had committed in building the golden calf, he asked himself: how can I give them these tablets of the commandments? In doing so I would be obligating them to these laws and thus condemning them to death for it says ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ (Ex. 20:3) 

Moshe started to turn back, but the Elders saw him and ran after him. Moshe held on to one side of the tablets, they held on to the other, but Moshe was stronger... He looked at the tablets and noticed that the writing had disappeared from them. ‘How can I give the Israelites blank tablets?’ he thought, and decided it would be better to break them instead, [as it is said, ‘And I took hold of the two tablets, and cast them out of my two hands, and broke them’ (Deut 9:17)] (Avot D’Rabbi Natan, Ch.2)

Noting the disappearance of the writing after Moshe wrestles the tablets away from the Elders but before he throws them down on the ground, the rabbis deduce that God concurred with Moshes’ instinct to hold the Torah back from the people who were clearly not prepared to receive it. Following Moshes’ lead, God withdrew the laws from the tablets.  

What Moshe understood was that there could be no Torah without a community to follow its teachings, and if the community was not present spiritually to receive it, better the Torah be withdrawn than have all its adherents destroyed. And God agreed. 

This is a powerful lesson for Judaism today, in particular for those of us committed to the renewal of Jewish life in the 21st century.  We stretch ourselves to respond to the growing majority of Jews who no longer embrace traditional Jewish teachings and practices.  We create innovative programs, write new commentaries, promote new theologies, expand
accessibility to rituals, some even redefine Jewish identity – all in the hopes of re-engaging people who seem increasingly disengaged.

Yet our attempts are often met with criticisms: we are “diluting,” “dumbing down,” “making convenient,” “compromising” and “sacrificing” our Torah’s teachings to attract people who don’t take it to heart.  Only those living a “traditional” Jewish life seem to warrant the title of “authentic Jews”, and they’re usually defined as those who are “religiously observant,” which, in common parlance, is too often equated only with Orthodoxy. We know that’s not true, on many levels.

What’s lost in these arguments is the profound message of this Midrash: there is no value in Torah for Torah’s sake. The Torah’s value derives from those who sanctify its traditions by living them. And according to our striking commentary, when God acceded to Moshe’s impulse to withdraw the laws and smash the tablets, God also embraced the idea of the primacy of the people, however imperfect we may be, over the supposedly perfect Torah.

This teaching is echoed in yet another Midrash found in the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 32a).

And God spoke to Moshe, לך, רד – Go, get down.  What is meant by 'Go, get down'? R. Eleazar said: The holy One said to Moshe: Moshe, descend from your greatness. Have I given you greatness for any other reason than for the sake of Israel? And now that Israel has sinned, why do I want you? 

God sees what the people have done by making a golden calf, and commands Moshe to descend the mountain, and to descend from his leadership, with the words: “Go, get down!”  God’s reasoning, according to this Midrash, is based on a definition of leadership that requires followers.  After all, Moshe, despite his personal greatness, was there acting on behalf of the entire people.  And if the people were not able or willing to receive the Torah in that moment, then there was no need for Moshe to be there. 

From this Midrash we learn that the Torah is not given to the Moshe of each generation, rather the Torah is meant for an entire people, who at times may seem at best unprepared, and at worst, unworthy.  

We’re not the first, or the last, generation to face the painful confrontation between the Torah and those who chafe against its demands, between whom it is the Torah would like us to be and who we often are. And we’re not the first, or the last, to follow Moshe’s sacred impulse to disassemble and reassemble Torah for the purpose of strengthening Judaism and the Jewish people. 

The Jewish world today is filled with “God-optional” synagogues, same sex marriage rituals, interfaith family engagement, cultural conversions, vegan tefillin (including a call for lab-curated leather tefillin), and Zoom minyans. These are all cracks in today’s tablets, letting in the light of our contemporary Jewish experience, including our “postethnic”, and “cultural-as-opposed-to-religious” sensibilities. 

We are living in an era distinguished by Jews choosing what to believe, how to observe, when to participate and with whom to share it -- all fissures in our sacred stones. 

We know that these trends are part of a larger system of global changes that are transforming the ways human beings relate to one another and to our search for meaning. We know there is deep hunger out there – for connection, meaning and purpose. 

Jeremy Rifkin, in his remarkable book, The Empathic Civilization, documented how changing paradigms in our world create increasing empathy amongst people. Traditional hierarchies have given way to collaborative frameworks in business, media, energy production and distribution, governance, and medicine.

As Rifkin stated, “A complex, globally structured civilization made up of hundreds of millions of individuals interacting in vast associational networks – social, economic and political – requires a sense of openness, a nonjudgmental point of view, an appreciation of cultural differences, and a desire to continually find common ground among people.” 

It should not be shocking to us, Rifkin says, “that in the most technologically advanced countries, where self-expression is high, the older theological consciousness, with its emphasis on strict external codes, the communal bond, and a hierarchically organized ‘command and control’ is losing its hold. Religious hierarchies make less and less sense in a flat, networked world.”

What do we make of this when the vast majority of Jews have rejected religious hierarchies, favoring a Judaism of accessible gateways, not exclusionary fences? 

Moshe overcame his disappointment with the people and courageously defended Israel on Mount Sinai, sparing them the fullness of God’s wrath. We who care deeply about the future of Jewish life might also need to shake off the ashes of our mourning for a Judaism that once was but is no longer and courageously embrace our people today who are living in a different world and time, but for whom the Torah can still be a source of holiness and a path to community. 

Like Moshe, we may even need to fracture our Torah, to disassemble parts of it, in order to evolve a language and practice that’s resonant and relevant to the vast plurality of Jews today.  When teaching this Midrash many years ago to a group of Jewish leaders in northern New Jersey, Rabbi Donniel Hartman challenged us by suggesting that every generation needs to ask itself what part of the Torah they are willing to “break” in order to stand by the community. 

It was, and is, a bold challenge. He essentially asked us if we, like Moshe, are prepared to reconfigure some halakhic precedents in order to stand by our people and maintain the Torah as an ongoing source of Jewish wisdom and guidance? Whether we’re ready to break down walls to create access and ensure inclusion; to dissolve presumed sources of authority and use distributed power and social capital to inspire collaboration and evolve new Jewish norms amongst a flat, networked Jewish people? What are we prepared to dismantle and reconfigure in order to bring more Jews home to Judaism, and those traveling with them? 

Different individuals and communities will have their own ideas. Mine emerge from almost three decades of leading a pluralistic, diverse community: spiritual libertarians, secular mystics, nature worshippers, social justice activists, the ubiquitous “not-religious but deeply committed to being Jewish” folks, grandparents with non-Jewish grandchildren, Jewish families with non-Jewish parents, couples of all racial, gender and sexual identities, transgender kids, individuals of other cultural and religious backgrounds, and yes, even some “mainstream” Jews. 

I’m a rabbi and I’m also a mother of 6 millennials and Gen Z-ers whose Jewish lives - after 12 years of Jewish day school, Jewish camps and Israel trips - almost all look different from mine and from the home in which they were raised, notwithstanding their deep Jewish pride. I suspect I’m not alone here. When I consider Rabbi Hartman’s challenge about the fracturing of Torah today from the particular Jewish perch upon which I sit, I wrestle with such things as:

  • Whether we should keep expanding the boundaries of Jewish identity to encompass the increasing diversity of the Jewish people?
  • Whether we should revisit some restrictions of Shabbat regarding technology and travel and reimagine its parameters in order to reflect the reality of how human beings communicate in the 21st century, how we choose where to live, and how we experience rest and renewal?
  • Whether requiring people to daven three times a day suits our modern lives? Is there another, more compelling framework? Does our liturgy bear updating to reflect more modern approaches to belief in God, reward and punishment, and to be more inclusive of our diverse beliefs?
  • Have we caused enough pain to our fellow creatures with whom we share this planet to finally upgrade the requirements of kashrut and shehitah/ritual slaughter to now require that animals to be eaten, including their milk and eggs, must be treated humanely to be hekhshered/certified kosher?
  • Do we understand the climate crisis as a religious crisis as well as an existential one such that we ought to require more explicit standards for Jewish communal spaces around how we treat the environment and our carbon footprints
  • Also, just for good measure, a personal crusade I inherited from my Modern Orthodox grandfather, Rabbi Mendell Lewittes, z”l,: are we ready to eliminate the burden of a second day of yom tov/Festival day that’s observed outside of Israel when for so many reasons it’s lived out its usefulness and saps the potential for a more vibrant single Festival day and the chance to align our observance with Medinat Yisrael?  

Moshe realized he couldn’t come down the mountain with blank tablets.  Neither can we.  But blank tablets aren’t just tablets with nothing written on them.  They are also tablets written in an idiom, a language of obligations, their recipients no longer understand or accept or that no longer serve our mission.   

Many will shudder at the thought of “shattering” the Torah, but  remember where the shards of the tablets Moshe threw down ended up: in the holy ark, right next to the new ones that were created. Among those shards lie such decisions of our poskim/authorities to embrace matrilineality breaking the biblical model of patrilineality, to ban polygamy, to require a woman’s consent to divorce, to marry converts and widows to Kohanim/Priests, to ordain women, to enfranchise LGBTQ Jews, to bury non-Jewish relatives in our cemeteries, and other bold “fractures” of tradition we initiated for the sake of Jewish community and peoplehood.  

What else did Moshe shatter when he shattered the tablets? 

1. The notion that the received tradition always trumps the dynamic, kinetic or continually evolving tradition. 

Leaders often think we can hold the past and the future in our hearts and hands at same time; a lofty goal. But our Talmudic tradition boldly asserts that sometimes it’s just not possible. Discussing a matter of jurisprudence, the Talmud in RH 25b states [on Dev 17:9]: eiyn lecha leylech elah etzel shofet shebyamav - you must go to the judge in your day; to the one whose eyes and ears and hearts are attuned to the realities that need to be negotiated. 

As my grandfather Rabbi Mendell Lewittes, z”l, explained:  “Only the judge of the day appreciates and understands the requirements of their era.” And it is those insights and sensitivities that must guide the establishment of the day’s norms and expectations. 

My grandfather, a bold and brave religious leader, also once taught me the difference between a rabbi and a parrot: a parrot merely repeats what’s been said to them, but a rabbi can’t just repeat whatever was said or taught to them; they can’t just repeat the past for they
are charged with envisioning and building the future.  Poskim/religious authorities have not just the right but the responsibility to be bold, courageous and innovative. 

2. Another critical instinct smashed: the fear with which many of us live, especially leaders tasked with making high stakes decisions that will affect the lives of so many - indeed of generations.

Smashing the oppressive restraints of fear, Moshe’s actions taught the virtue of  living from hope and not intimidation; of trusting in the future. After all, when Moshe smashed the tablets, did he know there’d be a second set coming?? No! His action guides us to work from a place not of vulnerability but of confidence, – in each other and in Judaism.

3. A shattering we’ve experienced in our own lifetimes: the shattering of the paradigm of rabbinic authority

Before I comment on this paradigm break, I want to reflect on this notion of shattering paradigms, or paradigm shifts. 

We Jews are no strangers to the task of new beginnings, of new thinking and new models for religious behavior.  Consider the daring vision of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai who, as the Temple was falling, salvaged Judaism by offering a completely new paradigm in which Israel and the divine would interact.  Out of the stones of the sacrificial altar he crafted magnificent prayers and heartfelt meditations.  Out of the elaborate rituals of the Priests he devised elegant gestures of kindness.  Out of the singular Temple abode he built welcoming houses of study.

Rabbi Yochanan and his colleagues in Yavneh launched what we call Rabbinic Judaism, a system of Jewish practice that revolved not around sacrifice, but around prayer, study, and acts of hessed/kindness; not around a Temple but around houses of prayer and houses of study; not around Priests, but around teachers, called Rabbis, who would show us how to turn our own homes into sanctuaries and to become our own ritual facilitators.  This is an early version of the Judaism we inherited and loved for almost 2000 years.

But it wasn’t so easy to do: it required a deep rupture of the previous paradigm.

When we return to the days of the desert sanctuary, the Mishkan, and later to its successor, the Temple in Jerusalem - the first era of formalized, institutionalized Judaism -  Jewish life was characterized by two main dimensions or polarities:  purity and impurity – taharah and tum’ah. 

Religious life, interaction with the Divine, was centered on the bringing of gifts and sacrifices to God by way of the Temple and the Kohanim/Priests who ministered there. What determined whether someone could participate in communal rituals such as the Paschal sacrifice or the bringing of the first fruits was whether they were pure or impure. And if the latter, whether they had undergone the ritual of purification.

Imagine, then, the theological terror, the spiritual shock, the panic and dread that fell over the Jewish leaders and people as they watched the Temple burn to the ground. With it burned their only means of communing with God, along with the rituals that could secure their return to God when they suffered from the experience of impurity.

When the early rabbis brilliantly and courageously rescued Judaism from the ashes of the Temple, they didn’t just restore its vitality and its splendor. They orchestrated a radical paradigm shift.

No longer having the means to organize Jewish life around a Temple and with it her Priests and the twin poles of taharah and tuma’ah/purity and impurity, they democratized Jewish life and evolved a new framework in which to delineate the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, new definitions of not just who is in and who
is out, but of what is in and what is out.

Rabbinic Judaism became an intellectual and spiritual discipline that revolves around “Halakhah”.  Loosely translated as Jewish Law, Halakhah, coming from the Hebrew word “lalechet” which means to walk, was to become the system which governs our behavior, the way we journey through life, as we seek to live in the presence of the holy One and to build communities and societies reflective of our sacred values. 

Along with this paradigm shift, a new set of polarities emerged to replace the Temple’s polarities of pure and impure: those of permitted and forbidden/mutar and assur.

Every aspect of human life was now subject to the wisdom and guidance of a tradition that sought to evoke holiness not from within our states of being but from within the art of living:  how we eat, when we pray, what we pray, whom we marry, how we have sex, how we observe Shabbat, how we build our sukkahs, what we study, how we work, what we buy, how we dress, and on and on.

Equally ingenious and crucial to its success, in the wake of the first hurban/destruction of the first Temple, Rabbinic Judaism planted textual seeds linking the authority of the ancient rabbis and of all who would succeed them throughout the generations to the original revelation of God’s will on Mount Sinai to Moshe. Rabbinic Judaism instilled in its followers an acceptance of the binding nature of their interpretations of Jewish Law, even as it would evolve and develop over the course of history to adapt to an ever-changing world. They built continuity into the experience of discontinuity. That’s the hallmark of how Judaism has dealt with catastrophe and restoration throughout history.

Even with halakhik hiddushim/innovations the system contained a dynamic that would allow it to respond to changing realities while retaining continuous use of symbols and language - shofar, holidays, prayers, etc. Halakhah, after all, also comes from the word tahalikh,
which means process or development.

But the paradigm has been shifting again, and we are living through a dramatic, sometimes frightening but deeply exciting moment in Jewish history. Often it’s hard to appreciate the gravitas of such a moment when it’s unfolding over the minutiae of daily life, but let’s step back a moment and try to understand where we are in the historic enterprise of Judaism.

While this paradigm of rabbinic authority based on mutar/assur worked for almost two millennia, like the Temple walls, it also has been crumbling, forcing us to ask why, and what now?

Consider this very brief sketch of the changes we’ve undergone:

Beginning with the Enlightenment and Emancipation, prodded by the advances in science and technology as well as in philosophy and anthropology, humanity began to question the authority of any religious system to speak for God and to dictate what it is God wants of us, if there even is a God.

The theological and halakhic/legal assumptions within Rabbinic Judaism of how it is we decide how to behave as Jews ritually, ethically, spiritually – not to mention who gets to decide -- have all been challenged and by most Jews, rejected. For most rabbis outside of the Orthodox community and even for many within, rabbinic authority today is less about granting or withholding permission to people regarding their actions, and more about guiding people to experience and cultivate holiness in their lives. Rabbis are seen less as Jewish authorities, per se, and more as models and teachers of Jewish integrity and inspiration.

We’ve shattered the idea that Jewish leaders have as their mandate to mold followers in their image or restrict the boundaries in which people can engage Jewishly in favor of helping people grow into their own authentic Jewish potential and aspirations.

To me, given the world we’re living in, this can be good for the Jews, as we say. I often describe my own sense of mission this way: “My success as a rabbi isn't going to be measured by how many people I inspire to live my Jewish life, but by how many people I can inspire, educate, and equip to live their own authentic Jewish life.”

This leaves us with the million dollar question: without the traditional framework of religious
authority,  why should we—and how can we—cultivate a sense of Jewish obligation in what some have called a post-halakhic or voluntary Jewish world? What is the next great Jewish
paradigm? What Jewish story can we tell that reflects not just Jewish reality but Jewish destiny? What Jewish language can we speak that expresses not just Jewish opportunity but promotes Jewish responsibility? We’ve evolved from tameh/tahor through muttar/assur bringing us to what contemporary framework? What are the new binaries of Jewish experience?

My beloved friend and cherished colleague, Rachel Brodie, z”l, a master Jewish educator whose recent death has left a profound void in the universe of Torah study as well as in my own personal universe, partnered with me in exploring what language and vocabulary we can harness for this moment. Turning to the treasure of our tradition, we tested out words like “keva” which refers to the regular and disciplined commitment to Jewish practice that’s necessary to sustain identity. We looked at the word “kavana” or intention, reflecting the insistence among today’s Jews that what they invest in Jewishly has meaning and significance. It can’t just be, as Tevye might say, “tradition”. It can’t just be “because that’s the way it’s always been done”. Jewish observance has to mean something if I allow it to claim my time and my energy, not to mention my money. And what about “kehillah” or community, the importance of having fellowship with others who will bear witness (which is what the biblical word for community means, “edah”) to our spiritual yearnings and doubts, pains and celebrations.

And then we realized, we weren’t thinking in binaries at all. After all, the world we live in is defined less and less by rigid boundaries and more by hybridity and sharing making binaries less relevant. So how can we enable a halakhic system rooted in polarities to speak to a generation molded by the porousness and fluidity of social and cultural borders?

To me, these are among the most interesting and urgent Jewish questions of our time.

4. Another piece of Torah at the very heart of the system itself that’s been shattered and rebuilt: the notion that Jewish communities and families are made up entirely of people who are Jewish

The growing presence of multifaith/multiheritage marriage and families has added a new chapter to our endless story. The people attending our congregations, bringing their children to our schools and sitting around our Shabbat tables are more diverse than ever. This reality brings a new tug of war between past and future, not just what to hang onto and what to let go of, but whom to hang onto and whom to let go of.  To whom are we more obligated, the communities and families of the past or those of the future? Can we carry them both forward? Can we tell more than one Jewish story at a time about who we are and who we’re becoming?

Also shattered is the notion that identity itself is binary -- Jewish or Non Jewish. Half-Jew, patrilineal Jew, unilineal Jew, Jew-Bu, are just a few new frames that challenge our sense of Jewish identity. We are becoming more familiar and comfortable with new constructions of identity that bridge more than one background or adopted set of values or practices. We, especially our chlidren and grandchildren, live today not only in the marketplace of ideas but in the marketplace of identities.

Even belonging itself is an experience far more nuanced than our traditional , binary categories can contain. The calculations of where freedom and independence end and family and communal belonging begin are being renegotiated all the time. And the kinds of spaces in which Jewish belonging is thriving are expanding too: shuls, JCCs, cultural centers, Jewish museums, travel and recreational groups - Jewish belonging and Jewish engagement is being cultivated in increasingly diverse Jewish spaces.

The bottom line is that the picture of Jewish life today is compiled of the fragments of prior and current shatterings. The disassembling and reassembling of Torah in every generation becomes part of the sacred narrative and destiny of the Jewish people. To me it is the source of our continuity, not our dissolution. Smashing the tablets on the slopes of Sinai, Moshe chooses an imperfect, unpredictable people over inviolable, unchanging tablets and initiates the sacred dynamic of rewriting Torah in every generation of which we are both the inheritors and the transmitters. How we negotiate these realities today will impact how the generations of tomorrow will do the same.

Our fundamental challenge is this: how can we, in our day, reassemble these fractures? How can we hold the pieces together in a loving and principled embrace? 

When I feel overwhelmed by these questions, I think of Rebbe Nahman’s wise words:  אם אתה מאמין שיכולים לקלקל, תאמין שיכולים לתקן…Ifyou believe that you can break or destroy, believe that you can repair.

From a different intellectual camp, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the 20th century Orthodox luminary, taught that holiness isn’t found in the neat, seamless resolutions to our greatest questions. Rather, it’s found in the paradox of our lives, in the confrontations between the ideal and the real.

We are all made up of disparate, frequently conflicting parts. We often have values and priorities, dreams and beliefs, impulses and desires that clash with one another. Our task in life is not to seamlessly fit all the different pieces of who we are into some ideal puzzle where the edges all blend into one another, but to learn to hold the different pieces of who we are in one indivisible embrace.

And if we can picture the jagged seams of all the pieces of our lives as they come close to each other, we can see the space in between their edges. In that space, suggested Rav Soleveitchik, is where the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, dwells. So too, in between the shattered fragments of the tablets is where holiness emerges and envelops us in an eternal, abiding embrace as we reconnect them with imagination, intelligence, humility, intention, and dedication.

I am not unaware of the boldness, or of what some might call the recklessness, of what I am saying.  In fact, there are times when I wonder whether I can truly walk the path I am proposing.

Over the past 30 years of my rabbinate, having been raised Orthodox, ordained a Conservative rabbi and come out as a gay woman, I have blazed my way through communal resistance, challenged religious precedent and even charted new family territory.  Through it all I have remained steadfast in my commitment to Judaism and passionate about leading and serving my people and my tradition.

But just asking these questions makes me tremble with the weight of Jewish history and Jewish destiny upon my shoulders, indeed upon all of ours.

I often think about the contrast between Moshe’s powerful presence on Har Sinai and his heartbreaking final stand on another mountain, Har Nevo.  In the first scene, he courageously confronts God on behalf of a sinning people; in the second one, he can only gaze at the land he has spent his life leading his people to, knowing that he will never set foot in it.

The tragedy stems not from Moshe’s hitting a rock in frustration, but from his no longer being able to speak a language and articulate a vision that the generation before him needed as they opened the next chapter in Jewish history.  Moshe began his leadership with a people forged in slavery.  But at the end of his life he stood before a generation that had been born into the freedom of the desert.  Their frame of reference, their values and vision, came from a different place and were leading them down a related, but different, path. Moshe could no longer lead them.  He had taken them as far as he could, and now the greatest show of his leadership was to step down.

In Moshe’s place came Joshua. What did Joshua possess that Moshe didn’t, I wonder.  What will distinguish Jewish leaders today from one another, I wonder too. Some might identify with Moshe, able to see the new frontiers that Judaism is heading towards, yet unable to reach them themselves.  Some might be drawn to Joshua, learning to speak a new language of Jewish intention and responsibility, sculpting a new framework for Jewish identity and practice, leading people into new settings not only for Jewish experience but also for Jewish commitment.

After Moshe breaks the Luchot HaBrit God commands him to prepare another set of stones for the second tablets to be inscribed with the commandments.  “Pesol lecha shnei luchot avanim karishonim/ carve for yourself two tablets of stone like the first.”

The second set of tablets is the one that endured precisely because Moshe had to be actively involved in making them.  Our generation’s Torah will endure when we play our part as well. 

“Pesol lecha” “carve for yourself is not a one-time commandment.  It is a commandment that is fulfilled over and over again.  Every generation must see itself not as the passive recipients of our sacred texts, but as the sculptors of our sacred traditions that bind us to our sense of mission and purpose, which, as Rabbi Art Green put it, is to “be a wandering sanctuary for the Divine presence.”

Will the tablets we hold in our hands survive the collision with today’s culture and emerge recast into a Torah of authentic Judaism for the future unfolding before us? Will the pieces from our dismantling of precedents take their place in the ark as part of the ongoing sacred narrative of the Jewish people?

What’s at stake in the answers to these questions is more than just our own Jewish fate. The future of Judaism is one urgent piece of a universal crossroads at which humanity stands. As Jeremy Rifkin suggested in The Empathic Civilization, our ability to deepen spiritual and moral consciousness in a world of increasing connectivity and collaboration opens up the possibility of extending our empathic embrace beyond the human race to all forms of life and to the planet itself. The consequences of Judaism’s failure to reimagine itself will be devastating, and by some accounts they already are. The consequences of humanity’s unwillingness to do the same could have far more catastrophic effects.

Creating a sustainable Judaism, one that is open-sourced, nonhierarchical and collaborative, is part of the global urgency today to create a similarly sustainable planet.

In this sense, brokenness may be inevitable, but it is also redemptive.

The ultimate Jewish prayer which only grows in relevance is our prayer for peace, for shalom. Shalom is a word that comes from the word shleymut, which means wholeness. We know, deep down, that peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather the ability to hold different pieces of ourselves, of others, of ideas or values in a singular, whole embrace. Conflict and inconsistency is what makes for new insights and interpretations; it’s what continues expanding our embrace of a unifying, gathering sense of the sacred at every moment of life, and of death.

Broken/whole. Past/future. Holy/mundane. These are not either/or challenges but rather invitations to learn to stand in the indefinite space of both/and. Remember: the whole and the broken tablets lived in the ark which journeyed with us, guided us and grounded us. Our task is to live in the conflictedness and not program or paksin/rule it all away.

This is the powerful new narrative of our time, waiting to be inscribed upon our generation’s tablets. It comes with considerable risk and loss as well as the potential for great reward. What will we need to put down before we can pick up our pens, power up our laptops or open our gates to begin?

Like the midrashic tug of war on Sinai between the Elders and Moshe over the ancient tablets, our Torah today is wrenched between the weight of the past and the call of the future.

Which will lead to its salvation, and to that of our people, in every generation to whom the Torah is given: a tighter grip, or a more encompassing one?