In Deuteronomy 10:1, parashah Ekev, Moses recalls that God commanded him to carve two tables of stone to replace the first set, which Moses had broken. In commenting on this verse, the Midrash (Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbi III, 13*) connects it with the familiar poetry of Ecclesiastes: "A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3:5)." Probably because both verses refer to "stones," Jewish tradition linked them and found meaning in the connection.
The first explanation offered by the rabbis is historical and messianic. According to the Midrash, the time to "cast away stones" refers to the time of the Roman emperor, Hadrian, who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem (breaking its stones in pieces). The time to "gather stones together" alludes to the time of redemption when God will lay a "cornerstone" (both literal and figurative) for the rebuilt community and its Temple.
The second explanation is more direct. The Rabbis taught that "a time to cast away stones" refers to Moses when he threw down the first set of tablets in anger (Exodus 32:19). "A time to gather stones together" refers to the time when Moses was to restore the tablets to Israel, just as is recorded in Deuteronomy 10:1: "Carve out two tables of stone like the first..."
Taken together, these two interpretations imply that there is a messianic overtone at the moment in which God commanded Moses to prepare the second set of stone tablets. In anger and frustration, Moses "cast away stones." That moment of destruction and loss paralleled the later moment in which Hadrian destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. And of course, the analogy echoes with particular poignancy in this day following the bombing in Israel.
Lest we despair of redemption and healing, there is also a time "to gather stones together" such as the one described in Deuteronomy 10:1. Rabbi Jonathan Kraus teaches that the commandment to prepare the second set of stones gives us hope for renewal, second chances and new beginnings. Given our human frailty, there will be a time to destroy, to cast away stones, to make mistakes, to cause pain and fear. But there also will be a time to gather stones-- to renew commitments, to begin again, to reclaim and nurture hope. Communally, this message resonates healing situation occurring right now in Israel. There is a time of rebuilding; there will be a time for peace. A time to gather stones and become whole. And this message resonates personally, helping us prepare for Yom Kippur. In essence, during this season, we are summoned to prepare a new set of "stones" on which we will write the commitments that define and uplift us. Like Moses, the promise of redemption requires our active participation. We must decide what we will write on our new stones and which parts of our broken past will come with us into the future.
We must decide how we will begin to gather the stones in our heart and cast them away to make room for the healing places and future to form. Our bodies, our souls, like any other place need to go through a cleansing. A purging of past incidents and emotions. Do we need to hold on to that relationship? Do we want to continue to live the way that we are living or make room for something new.
Listen to the words of Ecclesiastes: To everything there is a season
And a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
What is it time for in your life?