Va'etchanan 5759 – Gilayon #90


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Parshat Vaetchanan


"Destroyers" and Idol Makers",

Even In The Observance Of Mitzvot"!?


Mishel Ben Soussan

In the commentary of "Mey Hashiloah", Rabbi Yosef Leiner from Izbitza (the eighteenth century), is used to shedding light on verses that are seemingly of secondary importance and reveals very deep levels in these verses. I want to suggest here a commentary that characterizes his original and exciting thinking. I based it here on the rest of the articles of the commentary of "Me Hashiloah", and of the "Beit Ya'akov" (his son) (Sh'mot, Yitro sign 112,114).

The verses: "For your own sake, therefore, be most careful, because you saw no shape when the Lord your G-d spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, not to act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness whatever, having the form of a man or a women." (D'varim 4:15-16). The commentator of "Me Hashiloah" explains in this language:

"This is, that a person should not hold onto any type of shade from mitzvot that G-d commanded. This is the explanation of a form of a man: that is a shade of positive mitzvot, a form of a women: that is a shade of negative mitzvot."

For the commentator of "Me Hashiloah", the prohibition of idol making, does not just relate to the actual observing of mitzvot, but is even directed to the observers of mitzvot as a warning.

The fact that the prohibition of idol making is connected in the verse to the revelation of Mount Sinai (You saw no shape, therefore do not make idols.) strengthens this direction of thinking. Receiving the Torah or entering into any religion is involved with the natural danger of idol making! What saves the situation and makes "receiving the Torah" a different kind of event in its purpose from "entering into a religion" as in other nations is the idea "you saw no shape." How? If we translate the terms of idol making or as the commentator of "Me Hashiloah" says "to hold onto the shade": the shade is the garment of something. Everything must have a garment. This is the external appearance, the way we can, in this world, feel the existence of everything. As if everything has some internal content that we cannot understand, and only by guessing through his shades that we encounter. This is true, for example, with regard to the thoughts of a fellow-man or with regard to his attributes (The fact that he gives tzdakah makes it possible for us to assume that he is generous. The fact that he sends flowers makes it possible for us to assume that he is loving!). The hypotheses stays as a hypotheses. There is no absolute proof, with respect to "the thing itself", the real content of the attribute, the thought, or the will. The only thing a person who "guesses" is the shade of the thing or its garment

If we relate to the will of a man, we will discover that we only grasp shades. In addition, the will of the Creator: how can we grasp what the shades of the will of the Creator are? This question is one of the major questions of the commentator of "Me Hashiloah."

The essence of our worshipping of G-d is "fulfilling His will." But what is His will?

To this question, seemingly simple, there is a quick and simple answer: the mitzvot. .

The answer is good, but not accurate. Behold, "you saw no shape." You cannot grasp the content of the true will of the Giver of the Torah. Only the mitzvot were given as if they were shades of the will of the Creator. In the other words, the mitzvot have shades, but their true reason, content, the intentions of the Creator, the will of the Creator- we are forbidden to think that we grasp them. For this reason, do not grasp onto the mitzvot or their shades, in a way, that you forget the essence. It is not in the shade, but in something else, that there is the will of G-d. [A suggestion of the editor: compare to the parable of the palace in "Moreh Nevohim" of the Rambam 3:51].

The whole problem of "It is time for doing for G-d. They have made void your law", that stresses the conflict there is sometimes between a certain mitzvah and the will of G-d interests the commentator "Me Hashiloah." The essence is always the will of G-d. But, man needs those dear shades that are the mitzvot because they are the major tools in our hands for worshipping according to the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. But, under the condition that we do not think that we are grasping the essence: we should not hold onto the shades (the mitzvot) as if it is the real thing (the will of G-d). One needs some distance between man and the mitzvah that he observes.

Even if a man observes a mitzvah with all his strength, his might, and the fitting joy, he must keep a distance. The essence is observing the will of G-d. And, He, the Giver of the Torah, chose to give it in such a way that observance of the mitzvot comes only after debating, doubting, interpreting, and after the whole rich and developing world of the Oral Law. One can suggest a possible way for creating the required distance. In the midst of a disagreement (mahloket) in the Gemara with regard to building of a sukkah, for example, one can experience the meaning of the different shades of observing the will of the Creator and feel the distance between "me" and the mitzvah. "Maybe these things do not have one meaning?" "Maybe the opinion of the other Rav is right"… It is true that a complex position of this type is not comfortable, but it is a necessary condition for keeping distance between "me" and the mitzvah. The danger is that the distance will be reduced: the habit, the routine, the obstinacy, the loss of an overall outlook, the tune of the prayer becomes more important than its meaning, a certain humrah (restriction) may prevent friendships and close one ears and heart to an other opinion. The type of dress and the type of head covering can create an untruthful view of the person whose head is covered.

Harav Shalom Mashash , the rabbi of Jerusalem, explained this in an important and descriptive warning: "When you wrap yourself excitingly in a big talit in the synagogue, be careful not to physically hurt the people sitting by you with the tzitzit." Keeping the distance between "me" and the mitzvah, but also keeping distance between the observance of the mitzvah and its results, and my fellow-man.

Keeping distance is in fact hakedushah (holiness).

Even though we received the Torah by divine word, one must be careful: "You did not see a shape." We should not intend to think that we have the Creator "in our pocket", so to speak, or that His will is clear to us. Behold, we are holding onto the shades of the mitzvot. Therefore, it is not right or fitting to do idolatry through the mitzvot.

The obstinacy of sometimes observing a mitzvah in a certain way because of reasons that are sometimes totally foreign to the intention of the mitzvah and that are sometimes the opposite of the intention of the Torah is the great danger that the verse refers to as "idol making."

Maybe we should understand the command "k'doshim tihiu" ("be holy") [and not "datiyim tihiu" ("be religious")] in the sense of keeping distance, be willing and ready to observe the will of the Creator, any time with the required modesty, as someone who is able to learn the shades of the thing. This is contrary to the customs of the goyim, in that being "religious" means observing their laws as if one holds onto "the thing" itself, to be fastened to the shades and be sure of the absolute truth.

It seems here, that the Torah is k'doshah (holy) in that it requires of us to learn, observe, and do; in other words, to worship our Creator in an persistent search of understanding His will. This search never comes to an end.

Mishel Ben Sousan, born in Morocco, studies and teaches Torah in different frameworks in Jerusalem.

Translated by Yona Landau