Broken Tablets

Detail on synagogue in Rome - A menorah and the Ten Commandments atop the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, Italy (S. Cazon photo/Flickr.com under Creative Commons 2.0 license)

Detail on synagogue in Rome – A menorah and the Ten Commandments atop the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, Italy (S. Cazon photo/Flickr.com under Creative Commons 2.0 license)

On Jan. 5, 2020, I began Daf Yomi, the practice of reading a page of Talmud every day. It takes seven and a half years to complete the cycle. I can’t guarantee that I’ll last that whole time, but I’m off to a good start.

Let me be clear that I don’t read the whole page every day in the original Hebrew and Aramaic; I begin with the daily email from My Jewish Learning, and then go to Sefaria.org, which not only has the original and the translation, it fills in the blanks that those of us who don’t have everything memorized, need in order to have the text make sense. I also try most days to listen to a podcast called DafYomi4Women, where the original text is recited and then translated.

In our busy lives, it’s hard to imagine adding something that will add at least a half-hour to an hour, to our day. But I’m reminded of a quote by St. Thomas Aquinas who said, “I have so much to do today, I think I shall spend the first four hours in prayer.” What I’ve found over the past week plus, is that the “daily daf” with my morning coffee helps to ground my day and begin it on a much more productive note than scrolling through Facebook and other sites. My day following has also been more productive – who knew?

As a rabbi, I also read the daily page looking for ideas that I can share with my congregation and community, and that relate to my life.

One of these ideas came from Sunday’s page, Berakhot 8b, we read, “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: ‘And be careful to continue to respect an elder who has forgotten his Torah knowledge due to circumstances beyond his control. Even though he is no longer a Torah scholar, he must still be respected for the Torah that he once possessed. As we say: Both the tablets of the Covenant and the broken tablets are placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple.’”

The reason to point out the words, “beyond his control,” is to distinguish this one from one who was once a scholar but chose to neglect his study. As we age, our bodies and brains change, it’s part of the process, and our ancient sages understood that injury or illnesses could also affect one’s memory. As a way of supporting the idea that the one who can no longer remember–through no fault of his own–the Talmud notes that both sets of tablets which Moses received from God on Mount Sinai,–he ones he broke and the intact ones–are housed together in the same Aron haKodesh, Holy Ark.

When we respect and cherish our elders, we help to set an example of how we ourselves want to be treated when and if the time comes that we experience brokenness in our bodies and our lives. May we also continually remember that one who is wise is one who learns from all. (Avot 4:1).

About Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
Susan Elkodsi is the rabbi and spiritual leader of the Malverne Jewish Center in Long Island, New York. She was ordained by the Academy for Jewish Religion, the country's first pluralistic rabbinical and cantorial seminary, in 2015, fulfilling a life-long dream. Her goal is to help Baby Boomers and older Jewish adults create meaning and purpose in their lives, in a Jewish context, but not the one they might have been traumatized in growing up. Rabbi Elkodsi recently completed a Certificate in Gerontology and Palliative Care through Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler School of Social Works, and looks forward to incorporating this new knowledge into her current work. She and her husband David have two grown children, Phillip and Jacqueline, and in her spare time enjoys knitting and spinning her own yarn.

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