by Daniel R. Weiss
Last week I referred to the shoulder straps that were part of the Kohen Gadol’s clothing. The shoulder straps held the Choshen (breastplate) in place. On each shoulder strap were the names of the 12 tribes. This signified that the Kohen had to carry the nation on his shoulders.
The Kohen Gadol, supported the entire nation. At the same time, it is the nation that needed to support its leader.
Five weeks ago, at the end of Parshat Beshalach we read of the battle against Amalek. As Moshe’s arms were raised the army of B’nai Yisrael had strength. When his arms would fall, the army would lose ground. To solve this problem two people, Aharon and Hur, stood by Moshe’s side to hold up his arms.
In this week’s Parsha, Ki Tissa, we read the story of the Golden Calf. While Moshe is on top of the mountain getting the Torah and receiving the tablets, the Jewish people fear that something has happened to him and convince Aharon to create a new god (the Golden Calf). After convincing God to spare B’nai Yisrael, Moshe descends the mountain.
When he sees the Golden Calf with his own eyes, the tablets are smashed. There are many different commentaries on the smashing of the tablets. Some say that Moshe was so angry at what he was seeing that he smashed the tablets, hurling them at the ground. I prefer a commentary that I read years ago that suggested that Moshe did not throw the tablets, instead, he dropped the tablets. The Hebrew does not say that he “hurled” or “threw” them, rather than he “sent” (Vayishlach) them. Perhaps he did not drop them out of anger or disgust. What the commentary suggests is that when Moshe, at this point an 80-year-old man, began walking down the mountain, carrying two heavy stone tablets, the stones were very light to him. They were light because he felt that he as the leader was supported by the people. He was not carrying the burden of the tablets himself. His arms (as they were in Beshalach) were supported by B’nai Yisrael. As he made his way down the mountain, he saw the calf and the people dancing and the support of the people left him. This caused his arms to collapse and the tablets to fall and smash.
Moshe knew what he was going to see. God had told him, while he was up on the mountain what the people had done. He told Moshe about the calf and that He wanted to destroy the people and make from Moshe a new nation. Moshe was able to talk God out of that decision. If he knew what he was going to see, why would he have been so angry as to throw the tablets? Additionally, when we break something out of anger, is our first inclination to collect every piece? Moshe collected the pieces of the tablets and they were kept, to be placed in the Holy Ark next to the second set of Tablets that he immediately went onto the mountain to carve.
Without the support of the people around us we will fall. When we are surrounded by people who love us and take care of us, it makes it easier to go about our day. When we take too much upon ourselves, when we overburden ourselves, the burden becomes too heavy and we fall, as do those around us. Yet when we have the support of someone holding us up, helping to carry the work it makes all our lives easier.
This past Sunday marked the third Yarzheit of Bert Bornblum, our beloved benefactor. Mr. Bornblum’s goal was to guarantee that a Jewish Day School education would be possible for anyone who desired it. He knew in his heart that Bornblum could best achieve this goal if he provided the support the school needed to succeed in the education of Jewish children. Like Aharon and Hur who supported Moshe’s arms during the battle against Amalek, Mr. Bornblum, and now his foundation, provide the support that makes it possible for this school to succeed. But the foundations support is one piece of what we need to be successful.
On this, the week of Mr. Bornblum’s yahrzeit, I am reminded of the important role each of us plays in holding up Bornblum. It is the parents, grandparents, alumni, faculty and community members and institutions who ensure that Bornblum continues not just to survive, but to thrive. And we honor Mr. Bornblum’s memory with every act we do to support our school and build our community.
Our work is to gather the pieces and to bring them together. Each piece is holy and essential for our community school to thrive. Thank you for supporting us in this mission.