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Of Pencils and Ropes

09/24/2020 11:51:05 AM

Sep24

I have a bad habit of doing crossword puzzles with pens. This obvious error in judgment means that I invariably am squeezing letters next to scribbles, which themselves are next to scribbles, because of mistakes and new guesses. Third time’s the charm? I think the reason I don’t use a pencil is because pencils are sparse in my house. I know I can buy some, but then you have to sharpen them, and they always break, and they smudge and a million other reasons that also aren’t real justifications to not use pencils. Alas! I will just needlessly subjugate myself to crossword purgatory out of stubbornness of adopting a less permanent solution. 

In Parshat Ha’azinu, the penultimate parsha of the Torah, Moses presents a poem to the Israelites. And one of the metaphors of the song indirectly chimes in on the pencil or pen debate. Except instead of talking about crosswords, Moses is talking about God’s inheritance. The poem reads, “For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob is the measure of his inheritance.” (Deuteronomy, 32:9) The word for inheritance is “Nachala” whose root is associated with rivers. One can imagine how a river would be a good landmark in distinguishing the boundary of a person’s territory. On the other hand, the Hebrew word for “measure” is “chevel” which means a rope. The biblical commentator Ibn Ezra points out that in the ancient world, people would demarcate the edge of their territory with a rope. Thus, we have these two representations of the perimeter of a person’s territory, one a permanent natural boundary, the other more transient. Which would you argue is better to have as a demarcation for your territory? The permanent landmark, or the adjustable rope?

When it comes to God’s inheritance, I prefer the metaphor of the adjustable rope. While it is true that the inheritance can more readily be diminished if it is marked by a rope, the inverse is also true; the inheritance can increase and more can be subsumed into the larger whole. If we, the Jewish people, or we, as individuals, are not set in stone or defined by rivers, then we have the opportunity to increase God’s inheritance by redefining ourselves and bringing more holiness into the world. In the same way that we have the capacity to do teshuva and become better people, so too do we have the capability of extending the influence of the teachings of our Torah and increasing God’s inheritance. During this spiritual high between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is my prayer that we can always spread more holiness into the world, and thus bring more blessing into our lives and the lives of others. 

Sabbat Shalom

Sun, June 13 2021 3 Tammuz 5781