We have heard the expression “Sea of Torah.” But how about Torah as coral?

Part One: Torah

As Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments carved on two stone tablets, he found the people worshiping a golden calf. As recounted in Exodus 32:19, Moses threw down the tablets and shattered them. The Midrash, however, goes into more detail. At first it says that the tablets were jointly carried between God and Moses, and there was a kind of divine tug of war, with God pulling them back to Heaven, and Moses managing to prevail (!) and hold onto the tablets.

But then the tablets themselves tried to flee, and finally the buoyant, living writing in them flew away and the tables became dead weight in his hands, so that they fell and shattered..

Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Yose bar Abaye, “The tablets wanted to fly but Moses was holding on to them, as it is written (Deut. 9), “And I held onto the two tablets.” Rabbi Ezra in the name of Rabbi Yehudah from the house of Rabbi Shimon, “The tablets weighed forty seahs, and the writing was holding them up. When the writing flew off, the tablets became heavy in Moses’s hands, and they fell and were broken.

Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 23a

My teacher, Rabbi Judith Abrams of blessed memory, interpreted this passage in a beautiful way with a metaphor from the sea:

…So the tablets could be seen as living things. We tend to think of them as stones, but they might be better thought of as coral. Coral seems to be a rock, but it’s actually a living being. The writing is alive as well.

Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams, Ph.D. The Other Talmud, The Yerushalmi: Unlocking the Secrets of the Talmud of Israel for Judaism Today (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights, 2012), p. 169.

Torah should not be seen as words carved in stone, but as a living, growing entity, firm and beautiful but also dynamic and changing, much like coral. Torah has survived and thrived over the millennia because of its capacity to grow and to adapt to many new cultures and situations.

Part 2: Coral

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo cedit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral, the object of this felicitous metaphor, is not doing so well. Human-induced climate change has led to acidified seas that destroy coral reefs, even in seemingly pristine locations. Coral–animal, vegetable, and mineral all in one –is like a Torah of the earth, warning us of the destruction that we are wreaking by our overuse of fossil fuels.

Israel’s Red Sea has some of the hardiest coral reefs in the world. Take a look at their beauty, and learn why they may outsurvive other Coral Reefs, but are still in danger from pollution.

Coral Restoration.org is an organization dedicated to restoring coral reefs, educating about the ocean, and using science to further research and monitoring techniques. They create offshore nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species. You can support the by donations and also by volunteering in various capacities on land and sea.

Another simple way to help coral reefs is to change your sunscreen to a mineral based one instead of the chemical type.

For more inspiration on the beauty and importance of coral reefs, watch this video from the “Nature is Speaking” series from Conservation International.


Featured image: Corals in Shallow Waters, Simon Roberts, via Flickr.

Learn ways to help save our seas, or return to the Gateway of the Sea.