Sandra Cohen
Intelligent, funny, a bit weird

The chief cornerstone

“The cantaloupe the shoppers have rejected has become the chief melon!” my husband proclaimed, holding the sweet-smelling fruit aloft in his right hand.  As he prepared to cut in up, so it would be easily available for munching, he mentioned to me that he could not vouch for its quality; it was the only one left in produce aisle when he had gone grocery shopping last night.

We laughed together over this reference to a verse of Psalm 118, one of the Psalms sung during Hallel, Psalms of praise sung on the three Pilgrimage festivals and on Rosh Hodesh, but the verse stayed with me after I left the kitchen.

אֶ֭בֶן מָאֲס֣וּ הַבּוֹנִ֑ים הָ֝יְתָ֗ה לְרֹ֣אשׁ פִּנָּֽה׃

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

I am a writer, a preacher, a pastor, a knitter.  I don’t usually physically build things, but my husband, Ben, does.  A lawyer by day, he is both musician and luthier by night, weekends, and spare time.   As a gift to celebrate getting my Master’s degree, when he was first beginning to work with his hands, Ben built me a beautiful bookshelf (the first of many).  Because of him, I have learned to see how things are put together, what fits where, as it were.

Knitting has also taught me the importance of the base, the bottom layer, as it were, the cornerstone.  When embarking on a new project, with a new pattern or yarn,  the directions always remind the knitter to take time to make a sample swatch, to check your gauge:  how many stiches and how many rows it takes for you to get to 4” with this yarn, this size knitting needle, this pattern.  I am often tempted to just fake this, to say, “oh, close enough.”  Well, that may work for, say, a baby blanket, when the blanket turns out much smaller or larger than expected, but if I am trying to make a pullover, well. . . all that work is almost for naught.  The beautiful sweater may fit someone, but not the person I had intended it to fit.

Writing is another form of building.   Sometimes words flow quickly, like a stream rushing down, rapids bubbling.  Other times (like writing this piece!), I struggle for each word.  Where am I going with this idea, I ask myself? What is the chief cornerstone?  What am I trying to say?

All the chatter in the world will not sell an article if there is no point to it.  A funny story, some examples, a text – the sermon will sound good at the times.  And then later, when someone asks, “What did the rabbi talk about?” you find yourself saying, “I can’t remember.”  And that’s because there was nothing there.  The cornerstone, the idea.

I think the chief cornerstone of pastoral care may be the idea of “presence.”  It is my job, and my joy, to sit with someone, and simply be present, to listen, to care.  I  hope to reflect back that they are created b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of Gd.  And that means every person, those of obvious import and those who sell themselves short, those we love and those we do not know or care for –each person has a place in the world, unique and infinitely valuable.  The chief cornerstone.

And there it is—the point!  We do not know who Gd thinks of as the chief cornerstone, because are not meant to know.  Rather, we stumble into the grocery store, and pick up the melon at hand.  Each person becomes a cornerstone at a different point in time, because each of us has something to offer, a unique contribution to the universe – and we honor one another not for what they can do, but for who they are.

Psalm 118:21-24 is sung near the end of Hallel; each verse is sung twice.

א֭וֹדְךָ כִּ֣י עֲנִיתָ֑נִי וַתְּהִי־לִ֝֗י לִֽישׁוּעָֽה׃

I praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my deliverance.

אֶ֭בֶן מָאֲס֣וּ הַבּוֹנִ֑ים הָ֝יְתָ֗ה לְרֹ֣אשׁ פִּנָּֽה׃

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

מֵאֵ֣ת יְ֭הוָה הָ֣יְתָה זֹּ֑את הִ֖יא נִפְלָ֣את בְּעֵינֵֽינוּ׃

This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight.

זֶה־הַ֭יּוֹם עָשָׂ֣ה יְהוָ֑ה נָגִ֖ילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָ֣ה בֽוֹ׃

This is the day that the LORD has made— let us exult and rejoice on it.

We don’t need to know how to build.  Rather, we notice Gd’s doing; that Gd has answered us’ that Gd is Present in the world and isn’t that amazing!

The melon was indeed delicious: juicy, sweet, and melting in our mouths.

About the Author
Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.
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