08/30/11

45. KI TAVO

KI TAVO

 

Written In Stone

There’s a movie out now, called ‘THE TEN’, written and directed by David Wain, a Jewish funny guy. The movie is a modern midrash of sorts on the Ten Commandments, taking wild spins off of each commandment in relation to modern life. Or something like that.  In between each segment, Paul Rudd narrates, clumsily, standing inside a studio with two GIANT replicas of the two tablets of the law.  This is not a film review but lets just say that we walked out disappointed. All these big stats (Wynona doing ‘Do not Steal” was a good casting choice…) but so little of actual substance to say about the bible beyond gags.

What, we wondered, what be a modern day adaptation of the Ten Commandments that would really compel us to think about the place of that ancient text in our modern lives?  How would those two slabs of stone be represented today besides the classic old THOU SHALL on fake rocks?

In this week’s Torah episode, KI TAVO, an ancient monument to the words written in stone is erected, serving as a reminder for the people of the covenant with the divine at Sinai. The monument is to be built as they enter the Promised Land – the first permanent installation of a people no longer on the move. What’s odd about this art piece is the instruction to inscribe the words of the law on stone – but it isn’t clear which words, how many, and what size stone.

The Book of Words, chapter 27:8, describes the instruction ‘And on those stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most distinctly. (JPS) The King James translation offers: ‘And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. ‘Others translate as ‘inscribe clearly’ or ‘explain well’.

Our favorite translation is the Aramaic Pseudo-Jonathan: And you shall write upon the stones all the glorious words of this law in writing deep and plain, to be well read, and to be interpreted in seventy tongues.

Wow – not just the Hebrew words but also the translations!  Does this text mean this literally?

Aside from the simple preposterousness of this task— that’s a lot of stones and a lot of writing—there seems to be some kind of Sinai recap going on here. Stone tablets, broken tablets and scattered stones, stones now reassembled to compose the peoples’ version of Mosaic tablets – on their own terms.

SO maybe you are on a beach these last days of summer, or somewhere in nature where you can pick up a rock, or a pebble. We invite you to re-enact this biblical verse and use the stone to remember one word, or image, or memory from the Bible that sticks with you, that inspires you, that, like the Ten Commandments were meant to be – serves as a moral moment of memory for your path. Make your own monument, in any of the seventy languages and more that your heart may speak…