For the second time already in his farewell discourse, Moshe instructs the people what to do when they inevitably encounter idolatrous shrines upon conquering the Promised Land. On the heels of 7:5, we learn this week in Parshat Reeh: “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods…Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cute down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site” (Deuteronomy 12:2-3)
If the idea of oblitarating another people’s religious symbols leaves you feeling queasy, that’s understandable. But sometimes we must grapple with challenging texts. We know that idolatry is a cardinal sin in both Israelite and rabbinic religion. It’s one thing to abstain from it ourselves; it’s another to destroy shrines.
Two questions immediately jump to mind. Firstly, why is the Torah so insistent on the destruction of the trappings of avodah zarah? Second, what did the rabbis, living in a time of powerlessness, do with these commandments?
It’s not difficult to connect these verses to contemporary debates about the function of statues. On Shabbat morning, and in these turbulent days in our country, I’ll share some thoughts on these timely themes.