Shabbat Re-eh/Rosh Hodesh 5782
The Book of Deuteronomy is relentless in its demands that the Israelites, upon conquering the Promised Land, leave no trace of idolatry. This is a point of emphasis near the beginning of this week’s reading, Parshat Re-eh. After instructing them on the demolition of all idolatrous shrines, to the point that the names of foreign gods be obliterated from those sites, the Torah has one short sentence of contrast: “You shall not do so to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 12:4).
What exactly is the Torah prohibiting in that ambiguous verse? Rashi, based on earlier rabbinic texts, says: “It is a prohibition addressed to one who would blot out the Name of God from any writing, or would pull out a stone from the altar or from the forecourt.” Here are two no-no’s: (1) erasing God’s name and (2) dismantling our most sacred space.
The first prohibition is familiar to us–that’s why we bury sacred texts instead of discarding them. The second, however, raises an immediate question: what Jew would do such a thing? In Midrash Sifrei Devarim, Rabbi Yishmael asks just that: “Can the idea even enter your mind that an Israelite would pull down God’s altars? Rather,” he said, “‘do not do so’ means that you should not do for God what the Canaanites did for their [false] gods, which would cause your sanctuary to be destroyed.”
As the Israelites prepared to enter a new land, which was not devoid of inhabitants, they were going to have to get used to being surrounded by foreign influences. Even though the Torah commands that those influences be obliterated, the Torah was also realistic. Ever since, Jews have had to negotiate interactions with other religious practices, even to this day. How do we manage these tensions? This question will be relevant in every generation.
This passage reminds me of these two bands. Why do you think they came to mind?
The Torah portion also speaks about the dangers of the navi sheker, a false prophet. People are susceptible to phony spiritual saviors in every era. This early 1990s song lampooned the cynical rabbis who made money off gullible religious seekers.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 7:18 PM
Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24