Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Tammuz 5764 - July 14, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Sign and Substance

by Rabbi N. Z. Grossman

Part III

HaRav Eliashiv's ruling about human hair from India being subject to the prohibition of an offering made to avodoh zora awakened an interest in the subject that has not yet died down. In the first part, Rabbi Grossman quoted the Rambam who explains how the idea of avodoh zora started out as a mistaken attempt to serve Hashem through His intermediaries. HaRav Dessler explains that this is a lesson that we must still learn today. We see people who honor the means of performing a mitzva, for example, buying a costly silver menorah, while it doesn't occur to them to think about the Chanukah miracle and use it to strengthen their faith. They neglect the inner spiritual lesson and delude themselves by valuing the outward means of fulfilling the mitzvah.

The second part developed this idea and showed how the mistake appears in various forms. One example was given of chareidi periodicals that publish pages of pictures of gedolei Torah but do not listen to and make light of what they say. The inner message is like that soul that provides the vital force, even if only the body is visible. In discussing the cheit ho'eigel the Meshech Chochmoh also explains that one of the central messages of those events was that nothing is intrinsically holy except for Hashem -- not even the Luchos that could be broken if appropriate.

The Lesson of Smashing the Luchos

"There is nothing in the world," concludes the Meshech Chochmah, "that has its own holiness, calling for an attitude of worship and subservience. Only Hashem, whose existence is a compelling fact, is deserving of praise and worship. All other levels of holiness derive from His command e.g. to build Him a Mishkon and to offer sacrifices to Him alone. The Keruvim were not worshiped choliloh, and had no [independent] thought or significance. They were like the mast that a ship's captain looks to when he wants to know the direction of the wind. The Creator yisborach made signs and markers to let Yisroel know when they fulfill his will, [which is] when the Keruvim face each other etc. Therefore, the Aron Hakodesh only contained the Luchos, and the sefer Torah and the Keruvim were outside it on the cover, not inside . . ."

"The holiness of the Mikdosh hinges upon Hashem's Presence dwelling among His children. If Yisroel transgress the covenant, then all the holiness is removed from the Mikdosh and it remains mundane and bandits can come and overrun it at no risk . . . Moreover, even the Luchos, which Hashem Himself wrote, had no intrinsic holiness. They were only invested with holiness on Yisroel's account. When Yisroel behaved faithlessly at the moment of their bond with Hashem, the Luchos were like broken potsherds and they lost their holiness, which they only had because of Yisroel.

"When Moshe approached the camp he saw the eigel and the dances and understood the extent of their mistake. They had no doubt at all [about his disappearance] and no thought of waiting and looking out for him. They were deeply involved in the abominable worship of the eigel, which they considered divine. Realizing their mistake, he grew angry and cast the Luchos from his hands, conveying the message that nothing whatsoever has its own holiness or divinity, outside the Creator. Had he presented them with the Luchos, they would have merely substituted them for the eigel and continued with their mistake. When he broke them, they understood that they hadn't attained the goal of faith in Hashem yisborach and His pure Torah.

"Moshe Rabbenu's smashing of the Luchos was a wondrous act, intended to uproot every false idea from their minds. This is why Hashem congratulated him and it is also why both the [second] Luchos and the broken pieces of the [first] Luchos were kept in the Aron. The first Luchos, that Hashem made Himself (as Rashi explains) were broken, while the Luchos that Moshe cut were whole, demonstrating that no creature has its own intrinsic holiness. Holiness only derives from Yisroel's keeping the Torah, according to the wish of Hashem yisborach.

"Part of their mistake was saying that Moshe had taken them out of Egypt when this was not so. He was merely the emissary to speak to Pharaoh; Hakodosh Boruch Hu had taken them out with His direct Providence.

"Hashem told Moshe, `Go, descend, for your people have become corrupt' (Shemos 32:7). Their corruption lay in their saying that Moshe had taken them out of Egypt, showing that they thought that he too, was divine and had used some godly power other than Hashem's direct Providence in taking them out. This is a very precious idea."

Turn to Hashem Alone

Referring to the mistake of the early idolaters, who argued that Hashem had placed certain heavenly bodies in control of the lower worlds and that worshiping them would induce them to bestow good, the Meshech Chochmah clarifies that the entire universe is controlled by Hashem alone. "To Him," he writes, "there is no difference between the smallest sea- worm and the loftiest spiritual beings . . . A small fish is no less of a being than a big fish; something composed of the four elemental substances is no less of a being than the sun, made up of [many] radiating elements. Neither is an ordinary mortal, like us, essentially less than the beings of the upper worlds . . . created from unalloyed spirit. We are all equal and are supervised in every detail and created from the Being of absolute truth, the Creator yisborach Shemo. There is no [address for] prayer and no intrinsic holiness besides the Creator yisborach and His will and Providence, every moment, without interruption. The existence of all beings is null in relation to the Creator yisborach, who fills all the worlds and controls them all."

In one of his shmuessen (that was published in Lechoshvei Shemo, Adar II, 5738) HaRav Shach zt'l explained this idea's great relevance to our generation, giving several examples of areas where there is confusion about it. He warned that even a G-d-fearing Yid who considers himself to be fulfilling all his obligations, can stumble, as a result of mistakes in outlook, into the practices that infringe on the Torah's prohibition against making "other gods."

"Although it is man's nature to want to shrug off the yoke of authority," said HaRav Shach, "we surprisingly enough see an opposite phenomenon -- an example of the wondrous way in which the Creator has implanted opposing impulses in man. Sometimes, a person will voluntarily shoulder a yoke without being instructed to, as the posuk writes, `Don't make other gods.' His acceptance of this other yoke is a result of his having thrown off Heaven's yoke and it can even involve him in doing mitzvos and good deeds. In other words, he is prepared to fulfill mitzvos that the Torah commands us but not because he accepts Hashem's authority. He is ready to pronounce someone else a gaon and tzaddik and accept his authority and observe the mitzvos, but only because his mentor tells him to -- not because the Torah commands him it.

"This is not the Torah's way. Do we fulfill the Rambam's rulings because the Rambam said them? Do we follow the Mishnah Berurah because it comes from the Chofetz Chaim? That is not the correct approach. We are obligated to keep the mitzvos solely because the Torah instructs us to; this is what binds us. If a person observes mitzvos because of the yoke of another person's authority, there is danger in them, however worthy they might be. Since he is not doing them purely because of Heaven's rule, they will not have the desired effect. He is tainted by throwing off Heaven's yoke, which borders on making other gods!"

Conclusion: Substance, Not Sign

The basic message of all the above is that a believing Jew directs his heart and mind solely to Hashem and to His Torah -- "Hakodosh Boruch Hu and the Torah are One." He sees no intrinsic value or holiness in things that are used for mitzvos or that assist in serving Hashem. Even about the Beis Hamikdosh, Chazal say, "It is not the Mikdosh that you respect but the One who instructed you about the Mikdosh" (Yevomos 6). Even Moshe Rabbenu was simply an emissary to convey Hashem's Torah to us.

People tend to prefer accepting the outer, readily tangible but superficial, aspect of things, devoting all their attention to it without exerting themselves to appreciate the inner content. When they experience difficulty in fully believing in a single G-d who has no corporeal form and cannot be apprehended by any physical means, they instead prefer to worship one or another type of G-d's creations.

Rav Dessler, basing himself on the Rambam, shows that at the root of this widespread phenomenon of focusing upon the means instead of the end lies the yetzer hora of idolatry.

As he concludes, "A person feels the urge to employ a physical form to facilitate the consideration of an abstract idea, but ultimately he is just left with the form, because it is something tangible, and he loses the proper perspective of faith. Inner content tends to be displaced by the instrument that was to have led one to it."

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