On healing and whole stones

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By Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky

Special to WJW


There are so many layers to a transition of power. The rabbis teach us that the reason we do not know Moses’ burial place is so that the Israelites would not make of it a shrine. And though President Donald Trump, at least to me, is not at all analogous to Moses, the transition of power from Moses to Joshua speaks volumes.

Joshua was charged with bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. Prior to that (and to buttress that) God charged the Israelites to erect massive stones etched with the words of the Torah once they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. However, God nuanced this charge: accompanying these massive stones, the Israelites also needed to set up an altar using whole stones and without any iron tools.

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Altars were set up in the Hebrew Bible to make an offering — of confession, of peace, of gratitude. Erecting these altars not only marked liminal moments, but also aided in the transition from one stage to the next.

But why the need to erect such an altar with unbroken stones? The stones must be whole. The foundation cannot be shaky. There cannot be bitter irreparable divides.
This was a subtle and poignant teaching: To ensure the pursuit of justice and an upright system of law throughout the land, there cannot be fractures.


Both our nation and our president-elect have but one charge: healing. In fact, President-elect Joe Biden said it himself invoking the words of Ecclesiastes. It is not lost on me that following Ecclesiastes’ “time to heal” is “a time to break down and a time to build up.” Now is our time for both.

We have heard rumblings and fearmongering about a civil war. We are charged as believers in this great union to work toward a civil reconciliation. We can disagree. We can debate. And we should. But we should not foment hate. We should not fuel the vitriol. We should come together and use our collective energy to propel this nation forward.

The United States of America’s current narrative is different than that of the Israelites. The Israelites were privileged to enter the land and only thereafter erect the altar. Our healing, our re-union, our coming together, that in and of itself is our path to the Promised Land.

COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, climate change — these are the initial priorities we learned from the Biden administration transition team. We should all be committed to building us back better — Republican and Democrat. This is not only the path to the Promised Land, but, as the Biden administration’s transition team suggests, to restoring the soul of our nation. It is high time for us not only to mend the broken stones, but to seek out the whole ones.

Avi S. Olitzky is rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minn.

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