Like Putty in His Hands| July 27, 2021
Circles therefore represent Hashem’s handiwork, and squares man’s handiwork
“And Hashem gave me two stone tablets…”
This week’s parshah discusses both sets of Luchos, yet nowhere does it describe the shape of these Luchos. The centuries-old custom displays them with a square base and rounded tops. Why? (Rabbi Nosson Greenberg, Khal Machzikei Torah)
This past winter was a challenge to any mother’s patience, creativity, and dexterity. Stuck under house arrest for weeks, I struggled to keep the kids entertained and still maintain some semblance of structure. So when my neighbor offered me a few packages of Silly Putty, I was ecstatic. A whole afternoon’s activity!
My boys loved the sticky stuff. They pulled and pushed, kneaded and prodded the pink globs into all sorts of shapes. Avi even managed to form his into a realistic looking corona cell. The day ended with everyone in high spirits, leaving me tickled pink.
The Gemara (Succah 56b) tells of Miriam bas Bilgah who unfortunately left the fold and married a Greek king. When the Greeks captured the Beis Hamikdash, she entered the Temple, and kicked the outer Mizbeiach with her feet. Why did she specifically target the Mizbeiach, not the Aron or Menorah that represented Torah?
Rabbi Dovid Cohen suggests the following. The Talmud Yerushalmi says that Hashem didn’t create anything shaped like a square. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that every creation has Hashem as its nucleus. Since Hashem’s capabilities are equally powerful in all directions, His creations are circular — all points of the circumference equidistant from the center.
The square, however, contains points farther away from the center than others. This is not inherently a G-dly shape. Instead, it represents Hashem’s encouragement to man to build upon His initial creation. Each human’s handiwork differs from his fellow man, allowing one to stretch the boundaries of his circumference, carving out his own corner, perhaps becoming a hemihelix in life’s finished product.
Circles therefore represent Hashem’s handiwork, and squares man’s handiwork.
Greek ideology eschews this concept that man can add his input onto This World, because to them, physical beauty is perfect and cannot be improved. It’s interesting to note that the symbol for the modern Olympic Games is composed of five interlocking circles. How befitting for a remnant of ancient Greek ideology, the games honoring the perfection of the human body and ignoring man’s inner potential.
Now we can understand Miriam’s abhorrence for the Mizbeiach. Halachah states that the Mizbeiach must be perfectly square. The Mizbeiach represents man’s handiwork, facilitating forgiveness for man’s sins, allowing man to improve upon his physicality and rise to heady heights. The antithesis of Greek ideology!
But all good things come with a price. A few nights later I was in the laundry room, switching loads into the dryer before I collapsed for the night. I pulled out the dark load, and was about to dump it for folding, when I noticed telltale pink spots on a black shell. Then pink globs on a blue pair of pants. It didn’t take long to find the culprit. The blob of Silly Putty left in Yitzi’s pants pockets.
The Ohr HaChayim says that the first set of Luchos were provided by Hashem — His handiwork. But after the Cheit Ha’eigel, Hashem directed Moshe that he should participate in making the stones for the second set — man’s handiwork. Perhaps the centuries-old custom of the shape of the Luchos recognizes both of these sets. The base square, symbolizing the second set — man’s handiwork, and the tops rounded, symbolizing the first set — Hashem’s handiwork.
I sank into a chair and just sat there, a thousand sighs dragging me down into the pile of ruined laundry on my lap. I was so tired. So drained. So weary of the daily routine of being mommy, rebbi, housekeeper, wife, daughter, grandmother. This pink fiasco was the sticky strand that broke my back.
Enough. I couldn’t continue this way, being pulled constantly in so many directions. No longer a mommy, but an amoeba. I knew there was no point in crying over spilled putty. Yet I couldn’t seem to rebound.
But as I picked up one of my husband’s socks, now decorated with bright pink polka dots, my sense of humor fortunately kicked back in. Life’s situations may be pulling me like pink putty, straining me in all directions. But that was pretty special, no? And I never even realized that. Silly me!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 753)
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