In Ki Tavo, this week’s Torah portion, it records the laws we are to keep upon our entrance into the Promised Land. There we read;
It shall be on the day that you cross the Jordan to the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you, you shall set up great stones and you shall coat them with plaster. You shall inscribe on them all the words of the Torah, when you cross over, so that you may enter the Land that HaShem, your God, gives you. …” (Deuteronomy 27:2-3)
There are many questions we can ask about these stones. Are these stones built as a cause or an effect of their entering into the land? And an even simpler question, which direction did these stones face? Were they facing the residence in the Land or their neighbors?
Reflecting on these questions I think about my daily commute into New York City. In my transit through Metro North and Grand Central Station I come into contact with hundreds if not thousands of people daily. As I am prone to do, I take note of what people decided to wear. What aspects of their identity are they choosing to disclose? Is what they are wearing a cause or effect of the places they are traveling, who they are, or who they want to appear to be? Many are wearing a symbol some variety or other. What do these symbols represent? Do they wear these things for themselves to experience or for others to see?
There is no doubt that this consciousnesses is a product of my choice to wear a kipah. Regardless if we realize it or not we all are communicating with the people around us with the symbols of our lives. In that sense these messages are as much for our neighbors as for ourselves. It is what we tell people about ourselves which informs our aspirations for the people we hope to become. In turn these symbols help inform our habits.
These stones from this week’s Torah portion were as much billboards of the Torah on the banks of the Jordan as the t-shirt a freshman in college wears for his/her first day of college. Even if we are not about to erect a large stone monolith or a 9/11 memorial, we all could take a moment and think about the messages we send and make sure they line up with the people you want to become.
We could also explore how we communicate with the land itself. I found this piece, “The art of wearable communication” by Kate Hartman, to be very compelling.
While delightfully quirky, there is no doubt it takes this conversation about communication to the next level. Look who is talking now.