Thursday, August 9, 2012

Two-minute Torah: Old Tablets, New Tablets

In this week's Parasha, Ekev, Moses continues his summation of everything that Israel has experienced from the Exodus to this moment, when he is delivering his farewell address. He of course will lead the people to the edge of the Promised Land but he will not cross over the Jordan with them.

In the tenth Chapter of Exodus, Moses reminds his people of the sin of the Golden Calf, his response of shattering the tablets of the Law, and God's acceptance of Israel's repentance through the issuance of a new set of tablets. In verse five, Moses says "I placed the tablets in the Ark." It is not explicit to which set of tablets Moses is referring, but the Midrash tells us that both the new, intact set and the old, shattered one were placed in the Ark.

This action, to me, symbolizes what we as Conservative Jews should strive to do. As Jews of the middle ground, we are struggling mightily against two opposite tendencies. The first tendency is to see everything ancient as useless and outmoded. Everything new is the latest and the best; it must be adopted immediately or one is hopelessly uncool, even if, as we often find, the technology is not really ready for the market.

The second tendency is fundamentalism, reaction. Everything ancient must be preserved exactly as it is. No change is permissible, even though we know that anything which fails to evolve must die. Therefore people of this ilk invent a false past. According to this type of mythology, the Founding Fathers were all Evangelical Christians (though in reality most were either Deists or Unitarians) and Jews in Boro Park, Brooklyn, live in precisely the same way our ancestors lived in ancient Israel (a land which never saw black coats and fur hats or Yiddish until about 150 years ago).

As Conservative Jews we take the lessons of Moses. Both the old (the broken tablets) and the new (the second set of tablets) are holy.

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