Yoni, an industrial designer, created this 3d printed bangle made of heavy stainless steal. He created lettering based on the ancient hebrew form of this commandment.
By Matthue Roth
I got this black steel bracelet in the mail. I never wear jewelry, not because I’m too manly for it but because I am easily distractable. So it is with some trepidation that I wear this bracelet with the commandment carved onto it in letters I can’t understand. That’s my entry point. I like the fact that I don’t understand what it says, that I have to trust these ancient texts, this artist I don’t know who created it, the idea of belief itself.
Statues aren’t always bad. There’s one story in the Torah, the Israelites were being ungrateful to Gd, cursing and complaining, and they encounter giant flaming snakes in the desert wilderness. They bite, and kill, a lot of Israelites. Moses asks Gd for help, and Gd tells him to build a huge copper snake wrapped around a pole, and then pray to it. This totally sounds like idol worship. But I remember when I was twenty years old, an assistant to my anthropology professor, visiting a Lao Buddhist monastery, and getting really uncomfortable that all the civilians were bowing to all the monks when they conversed. My professor, a tiny Jewish woman in her seventies, Ruth Krulfeld, could see I was getting weirded out. She pulled me aside and told me, watch where their eyes go when they talk. Watch where their attention is. I did. They weren’t looking at the monk. They were looking beyond him. I returned and reported back to Dr. Ruth. “You see?” she said. “They don’t bow to the monk. That would be idol worship. They’re bowing to the higher Divine Reality that the monk represents."
Years later, the person who explained the giant flaming snake idol to me basically said the same thing. And I don’t think most Buddhists are idol worshippers. I don’t think any sensible religious person, as much as religious people can be sensible, would ever worship an idol. All the things we lease to other people because we can’t do it ourselves, the workers who check our foods to be kosher because we can’t travel to each factory ourselves (or make all our own food) (yet), the prayer leader who we say amen to, our boss, who pays us money to do what we have to do instead of doing what we want to do so that we can use that money to feed our kids and give (a little, not much, not enough) to charity - they’re not idols. They’re the opposite of idols.
They’re our vessels, making the connections we can’t make ourselves. And then there’s all the modern idols that rabbis are so wont to preach about - money, sex, video games - the warnings I’ve always dismissed. Movies about violence don’t kill people; people kill people and now I’m thinking, maybe those acts and stories and things really are idols. Not because we worship them, not because they don’t lead to Gd if we dig deep enough, but
because there’s that danger that we’ll forget to dig deeper at all. Because there’s the danger that we’ll get hung up on the fine print and forget to follow it back to the source.
I wore the steel bracelet all day. The damn thing was too big for my wrists. I spent most of the
morning fiddling with it in meetings, sliding it up and down, setting it aside so I could type and
then picking it back up because I felt guilty not wearing it - all the jewelry things I always hated.
In the afternoon, I picked it up. All the way up my arm. I slid it to the thickest point of my arm, the midpoint of my humerus, where I wrap my arm tefillin. It was still a little loose, but it stayed. When I flexed my arm, the steel cut into my arm itself, and I worried it would strain or damage my muscle. I was careful. I moved softer.
All day, it gnawed at my arm, hovered at the edge of my thoughts. Every time I was about to push it to the edge of things, to fully focus on the game I was writing or the food I was eating or the people I was talking to, my muscles would twist or my body would jostle and that bracelet would jangle my thoughts back to it - to the art project, to the idea of idols, to Gd. And so this little molded steel thing was no idol at all, but a snake statue, a Buddhist monk - it kept nudging my thoughts, not on it, but beyond it and beyond myself, a reminder that there was something greater, a reminder that my thoughts should be with that greater something. I tried to keep them there. I try.
Credit to Malki Rose, Melbourne, Australia, for her take on the giant flaming snakes.