Desert Island Texts

If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?

Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander selects: The Book of Legends/Sefer Ha-Aggadah by Hayim Nahman Bialik & Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky

 Having bentsched gomel (a blessing of thanks for emerging from a dangerous situation) for surviving the stormy waters and making it to the desert island, I would then congratulate the lucky fish that would be wearing my glasses in the future.

Since I have inherited my father’s dreadful eyesight, the text I desire would have to be one stored in my memory. Since I also appear to have the memory of a Swiss cheese, the text should be short and sweet.

What comes to mind immediately is the midrash in which Abraham explains to his father Terah why all the idols in their shop have been smashed. Abraham says that the biggest idol was responsible, and Terah is furious. “Are you making fun of me?” he asks his son, “they cannot do anything, they are just stone and wood!” “Aha!” cries Abraham. “Your ears should hear what your mouth is saying!”

Terah was in the idol business, and it was convenient for him to ignore the reality of the situation. His acknowledgement of the inanimate nature of these so-called gods was instinctive, and it was only the shock of Abraham’s actions that forced this realisation to the surface. Terah chose not to be conscious of the reality, but the truth was always within him.

So it is for the rest of us. How many false gods do we have that lead us astray, consuming our attention and our energy?

How many of us choose to ignore thoughts and feelings that deep down we know are important but may disrupt our comfortable lives? And where will we find the iconoclast who will return us to the heart of the matter?

I choose Abraham. His punchline shocks me each time I hear it.

Wherever I am, whatever I do, I carry it with me as a handy mnemonic for those times when I can’t see the wood for the idols.