Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 August 2006 / 18 Av 5766

Parshat Ekev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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If Bnei Yisrael carefully observe even those "minor" mitzvot that are usually "trampled" underfoot, Moshe promises them that they will be the most blessed of the nations of earth. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that they will conquer Eretz Canaan little by little, so that the land will not be overrun by wild animals in the hiatus before Bnei Yisrael are able to organize and settle the whole land. After again warning Bnei Yisrael to burn all carved idols of Canaanite gods, Moshe stresses that the Torah is indivisible and not open to partial observance. Moshe describes the Land of Israel as a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, a land of oil-yielding olives and date-honey. Moshe cautions Bnei Yisrael not to become haughty and think that their success in Eretz Yisrael is a result of their own powers or vigor; rather, it was Hashem who gave them wealth and success. Nor did Hashem drive out the Canaanites because of Bnei Yisrael's righteousness, but rather because of the sins of the Canaanites, for the road from Sinai had been a catalogue of large and small sins and rebellions against Hashem and Moshe. Moshe details the events after Hashem spoke the 10 Commandments at Sinai, culminating in his bringing down the second set of Tablets on Yom Kippur. Aharon's passing is recorded as is the elevation of the levi'im to Hashem's ministers. Moshe points out that the 70 souls who went down to Egypt have now become like the stars of the heaven in abundance. After specifying the great virtues of the Land of Israel, Moshe speaks the second paragraph of the Shema, conceptualizing the blessings that accompany keeping mitzvot and the curse that results from non-observance.


Being There Now

“Beware for yourselves, lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and prostrate yourself to them.” (11:16)

In our day and age, idol worship seems rather quaint.

The overwhelming desire to bow down to a large dolly severely taxes our imagination; yet King Menashe told Rav Ashi in a dream, that had Rav Ashi lived in his days he would have hiked up his cloak and scuttled off to find an idol to bow down to, so powerful was the attraction of idol worship.

It’s hard for us to conceive of the attraction of idolatry because in the time of the Second Holy Temple, the Sages nullified the desire for it, but think of our own era’s obsession with pursuit of physical pleasure, and you’ll get an idea of what the drive to worship idols must have been like: Imagine giant car ads featuring some idol draped around the hottest set of wheels, or the TV awash with ads featuring large stone statues beguiling us to use a certain brand of toothpaste!

In a more subtle way, however, idol worship has far from vanished from our world.

The essence of idolatry is the belief that I can buy the future; that the sun, the rains and the other forces of nature can be bought off with a quick sacrifice or two. In other words, “We have the technology.” With one small step for a man, we can control the world, the stars and beyond. The future is ours! This is the philosophy of the West. Lip service may be paid to the idea of a G-d, but He is lucky if He gets more than a Sunday morning visit. The real worship of the West is technology and its unlimited promise of control.

The Arabs, on the other hand, have a strong, some might say fanatic, belief in a G-d, but are obsessed with immorality. The Talmud tells us,” Ten portions of immorality descended to the world – Arabia took nine of them”. Islam must be the only theistic religion whose concept of an afterlife is rampant immorality.

In his interpretation of Nevuchadnezzar’s dream, the prophet Daniel envisioned a huge statue. Its head was of gold; its torso and arms were of silver; its stomach and thighs were of copper; its legs of iron; and its feet — one of iron and one of earthenware. (Daniel 2:31)

The Arizal says that this statue was an embodiment of the world-historical exiles through which the Jewish People would suffer and endure: The crown of the statue represents Egypt, the root of all exile; the head of gold symbolizes the exile of Babylon; the arms of silver stand for the exile of Persia, and the stomach of copper is Greece. The legs of iron, which correspond to the exile of Rome, divide into feet, one of iron and the other of earthenware: Meaning that in the very last stages of history, in which we now find ourselves, the two dominant powers would be the descendents of the Roman Empire, i.e. the nations of the West, and the Empire of Arabia.

Like two feet, the two last Empires of exile must work in tandem to be effective. A person with only one hand can still use it to good advantage, someone with one foot, however, is virtually incapacitated. The feet must work together if they are to be of use.

In the third paragraph of the Shema, the Torah warns us, "Do not stray after your hearts and after your eyes," (Bamidbar 15:39). "After your hearts" refers to idol worship; "after your eyes" refers to immorality. Rabbi Mendel Mishkelov said, in the name of his teacher the Vilna Gaon, that idol worship and immorality always go hand in hand — or better — “foot with foot”, for, as we mentioned, Rome and its current cultural heirs – the nations of the West – epitomize idol worship, and the empire of Arabia – immorality.

But why should idolatry and immorality be connected, and why do the feet represent them?

The feet want to take us somewhere else; they want to be anywhere but here. They want the future now.

This is the symptom of the age: To be there — while I’m still here.

Hidden beneath an apparent similarity to eating and other physical desires, the deeper attraction of immorality is a distortion of the ultimate pleasure of basking in the radiance of the Divine Presence — a pleasure reserved for the World to Come. It cannot be experienced here and now. If there is a distant glimmer of that radiance in this world, it exists in the Shabbat experience, and Shabbat is the time of family closeness.

When G-d told Avraham to forsake his environment of idol worship, He said, “Go for yourself!” The sentence could equally well be translated “Go to yourself!” The Hebrew word for “Go” is exactly the same as the word for “to yourself.” In other words, our journey in this world is to ourselves, to connect to our essence, to our soul, which is a part of G-d, not to try to buy the future and have it now.

This is the common denominator of idol worship and immorality — the desire to consume the future now. The feet, the agents of locomotion want to run, to be there now. Their correct task, however, is to lead us to our higher selves, for only that will bring us to perfection at its appropriate time and place.

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