Parashat Ki Tavo 5778
Stones as obstacles or as facilitators of light, birth, life, dreams and remembrance
In this week’s parasha, parahat Ki Tavo, Moses and the elders, upon entering the land of Israel, ordered the people of Israel to erect large stones and write on them all the words of the Torah.
It is written in our parashah:
“As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this teaching”. (D’varim 27:1-3).
Thinking about stones, we may find special significance attached to stones in the Torah and in other classical Jewish texts. Stones are used in multiple ways and are used as symbols.
Let us see some examples:
The first example comes from the Talmud. According to a Midrash, after God created the world and at the end of the first Shabbat, Adam grabbed some stones on Saturday night and kindled the fire with them. Adam blessed it, as we bless it during every Havdalah ceremony at the end of the Shabbat.
The first man was able to light a fire with pebbles, and this act symbolizes work and human creativity. This was the first action performed by a human being using natural materials created by God. From such simple and unattractive elements, fire can emerge, giving us light and warmth.
We may find the second example in the book of Bereshit, when our patriarch Jacob escaped from his parent’s house. It is written in the Torah:
“And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed…” (Bereshit 28:10-12).
Our patriarch Jacob took some stones and dreamed. Stones are hard and not the least bit similar to our comfortable pillows, but God enabled Jacob to dream while resting upon them.
The third example appears in the book of Sh’mot, when Paharoh ordered the midwifes to kill the Hebrew babies:
“and [Pharaoh] said: ‘When you do the labor of a midwife to the Hebrew women, you shall look upon the birthstool: if it be a son, then you shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.’” (Shemot 1:16).
The Hebrew text does not say “birthstool” but rather “avanim,” which is literally translated as stones. Those stones supported the mothers who were giving birth. We can say, then, that stones also are part of the birth of new life.
The fourth example concerns the tablets of the law. It is written in the Torah:
“And Adonai said to Moses: ‘Carve two tablets of stone like the first ones; and I will write upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.’” (Shemot 34:1).
The tablets of the law, which God Himself wrote, were written in stone, such a lifeless and unattractive material.
If you remember, the golden calf was built from the gold belonging to the people; on the other hand, the tablets of the law were not made out of gold or other precious stone but with simple and ordinary stone. Maybe this was to show the people that the tablets were valuable for their message and not for the material out of which they were formed.
Also, there is a custom to place stones on the Matzevah, the headstones that are placed by the graves of our beloved ones, expressing our love and eternal remembrance.
It is interesting to point out that a stone, often described as an obstacle or pitfall which appears in our path causing us to stumble and sometimes to fall, can be transformed into so many different symbolic things:
with the first man it was the source for creativity and light, ; with Jacob it aided a dream, concerns ; with biblical midwives and women in labor it helped bring forth life; with the tablets God gave to Moses, it became a guide on how to live a proper life; and at a cemetery it is a way to honor and remember the dead.
Maybe our tradition wants to teach us that from such a tough, inert, colorless material, we, humans, have the potential to create and transform it into wonderful things.
May God grant us in this new year, which we are about to start in a few weeks, the ability to transform our stones, those heavy stones that stand in our way or that we usually carry during our journeys, into creativity, light, dreams, birth, Torah and good memories as our tradition teaches us.
May God help us to have the wisdom to use stone, that tough, inert, colorless material, in the construction of good, meaningful and enjoyable works and projects that give us love, blessing and happiness.