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Symbolism

08/23/2019 02:58:14 PM

Aug23

Rabbi Steven Suson

This week’s Torah portion opens as follows:
והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה
(Ekev) you hearken to these laws and do them, Adonai your God will keep the Covenant and kindness that he promised to your ancestors.

The word Ekev, at the beginning of the verse literally means “heel” but is understood differently by various commentators.

Targum Onkelos translates Ekev as “reward.”
“The reward for listening to the laws and doing them is…”
This implies that blessings are a reward for following God’s laws and curses are exacted as a result of inadherence.
 
Dissatisfied with this explanation, Ramban translates Ekev as “because.”
"Because you listen to the laws and do them…”
Ramban explains that Moses is describing the natural consequences of following the Torah - good things will happen as a matter of natural sequences of events. Adherence to Torah naturally results in good things happening to us.

The nuance here is the idea that reward and punishment are not exactly tit for tat, according to Ramban. Rather, in general, good things tend to happen when we have respect for the laws and bad things tend to happen when we don’t. Both explanations interpret Ekev as “on the heels of” or as describing a consequence of hearkening (or not hearkening) to Torah law.

Perhaps that is why one of the most popular symbols in Judaism is the image of the tablets. The Asert Hadibrot (ten statements) are inscribed on the tablets and remind us of basic Jewish concepts of belief and behavior.

This summer, I visited beautiful synagogues in parts of France including Paris, the Alsace region, and it's main city, Strasbourg. I have included a few photos from my visits. Notice that the image of the Tablets is apparent in each synagogue.

The first three images are from the Tournelles Synagogue in Paris. This magnificent synagogue includes metal work reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower (since Gustave Eiffel himself contributed to its construction in 1876) and remarkable detail and meaning in the finishes throughout. On the bima, above the ark, rest images of the tablets. Click on the image of the bima for a 
short video of a live service.

The fourth and fifth photos are from an Ashkenazi and a Sephardic synagogue in Strasbourg. Both also prominently display the tablets.

One of the oldest standing synagogues in the Alsace region is presented last. It no longer functions as a synagogue but today exists as a cultural center. The detail on the outside has been erased by time (or on purpose). The likeness of the tablets still remains toward the top of the structure. In the attic, a geniza was discovered, containing thousands of Hebrew scrolls and prints dating from the 14th to 19th centuries.

I suspect that the image of the tablets is a reminder of the message of Parashat Ekev. We believe in a world designed by God, in which justice prevails and ultimately reward for righteousness is sure to come.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Suson

Thu, November 14 2019 16 Cheshvan 5780