Berakhot 8

Broken tablets.

Most of today’s daf is dedicated to the idea that praying in community is better than praying alone. For contemporary Jews, this might not seem like a big surprise. We talk a lot about the importance of community and the fact that some of our most essential prayers, including the Mourner’s Kaddish, must be recited in a minyan — a quorum of ten.

In addition, the daf stresses that every member of the community is to be cherished. Here’s a lovely teaching on that point:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi further advised: And be careful to continue to respect an elder who has forgotten his Torah knowledge due to circumstances beyond his control. Even though he is no longer a Torah scholar, he must still be respected for the Torah that he once possessed. As we say: Both the tablets of the Covenant and the broken tablets are placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. Even though the first tablets were broken, their sanctity obligates one not to treat them with contempt. An elder who forgot the Torah knowledge he once possessed is likened to these broken tablets.

Recall that when Moses came back down Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments, he found Israel worshipping a golden calf. Enraged, Moses hurled the tablets and they shattered, so he reascended the mountain to get a second set. The shattered pieces were collected and placed in the Ark of the Covenant, alongside the complete tablets, and eventually came to rest in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi compares the scholar who has lost his knowledge to the original set of Ten Commandments that were shattered but nonetheless carefully collected and housed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the whole tablets.

Comparing people with cognitive decline to shattered tablets would not be considered politically correct today. But let’s not miss the more important part — the shattered tablets were treasured forever in the holy ark. This is how we should treat our elders, even (or especially) when they are no longer in their prime.

Read all of Berakhot 8 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 11, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.


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