appear to have a special character in Jewish tradition. In the Bible,
the holy altar upon which the ancient Israelite brings an offering to
God is, in fact, a simple pile of stones. Abraham binds his son upon a
stone which legend associates with Even Hashtiyah, the foundation
stone of the world. Jacob erects a monument of stones at the holy spot
where he dreams his famous dreams.
The Decalogue is delivered on tablets
of stone. Viewed by many Jews as the most sacred shrine in Judaism, the
remaining wall of the Second Temple (the Kotel, known also as the Wailing
Wall) is, too, no more than a pile of stones. Although it has become common
practice in Israel today to place flower wreaths on graves, for many centuries
stones were placed instead of flowers, suggesting permanence and stability
in the face of death.
Most importantly, God Himself is referred to in the Torah and in the liturgy
as our "rock and deliverer." Writes Prof. Nahum Sarna: "The adamantine
quality of rock made it a symbol of firmness. Rocky heights gave a defender
an advantage over a would-be assailant stationed below, and its clefts
afforded shelter. For these reasons, a rock became a symbol of permanence,
stability, defense and refuge; and hence an appropriate epithet of God
when called upon to exercise those qualities."[*]
The author of Psalms, addresses God as his rock and deliverer, evoking
God's strength and protection in the face of arrogant, dangerous men.
In this seventh edition
of the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, Prof. James
Kugel looks at interpretations regarding the rock which Moses smote
to draw water for the Israelites. The midrash and a modern poet offer differing
views of the victory of David over Goliath, achieved
with a sling and a handful of pebbles. Archaeologist Prof. Rachel Hachlili
looks at the changing attitudes towards synagogue art, focusing on mosaic
floors in ancient synagogues.
We read a short selection from S.Y. Agnon's
short story, On One Stone, in which a mystic
gives up his writings to a rock. An unpublished 14th-century
manuscript reveals the virtues of the 12 precious gems implanted in
the ancient Israelite's priest hoshen mishpat (breastplate). And
with great pleasure we read of the magical worm, the Shamir
barely the size of a grain of barley, who helped
prepare the quarry stones for building the Temple.
On the Book of Psalms: Exploring the Prayers of Ancient Israel, Nahum M.
Sarna. Schocken Books, 1993. [Back]