By Rabbi Mijael Even David
We live in a practical and utilitarian society. We are proud of our ability to create incredible gadgets that save us effort and time. From the invention of the electric bulb to our smartphones, the Western world is in love with technology, and especially with efficiency.
No doubt these inventions have enriched our lives. We are more efficient and have an easier life than our grandparents. However, even if we value these gadgets, we also throw them away immediately if there is a problem with them. We don’t develop a relationship with our things – not the car, not the television, not the computer. The older folks amongst us will remember a time when people did develop relationships with their possessions, because they were much harder to acquire. Today we love cars, phones, computers, but not the specific ones we have – just the idea of them. This is a conditional love, one that lasts only as long as they work perfectly. Once that is no longer true, we change them for a newer model.
It is different in the world of Torah. Our parashah says that after the building of the Tabernacle, Moshe took the tablets of the Law and put them inside the Ark of the Covenant. Here the Torah uses the word Edut, in the singular, to refer to the tablets; but in the Book of Kings, when King Solomon takes the Ark into the Temple he built, the word used is Eduyot, in the plural. The Rabbis of the Talmud explain this by saying that there were two sets of tablets in the Ark – the first set, which Moshe broke in fury when he saw the Golden Calf, and the set he made to replace them.
The Talmud tells us that the love of Israel for the first tablets was not conditional. It was an unconditional love, influenced by the symbolic value and the eternal message of the tablets.
A short personal story. A couple of years ago my wife’s wedding ring broke and we could only fix it in the place we had bought it in Jerusalem. We were living in Karmiel, so it took a long time to take it there through friends and then get it back. Of course we didn’t consider for a minute buying a new one, more beautiful or impressive, because we love that specific ring, the one I gave her on our wedding day. Our rings remind us of that wonderful day, of our love and respect for each other. They are irreplaceable.
Moshe kept the pieces of the first tablets to remind us that not everything exists because of its practical or utilitarian value. On the contrary! Some of the most important things in life are not useful in practical ways. We value these things because of what they symbolize.
Next time we are in Shul or performing a mitzvah or ritual, let’s not ask ourselves “What can this do for me? What do I get from it?” Those questions are good for electric bulbs or a new camera. Let’s ask “Which values, memories or acts of love can this awake in my heart?” That’s a question that can transmute our doing into something valuable that we won’t be willing to change or discard.
Rabbi Mijael was born in Chile and made Aliyah in 2005. He is married to Raya and father to Hallel and Yair. Since September 2014 Mijael has been Rabbi of Edgware Masorti Synagogue.