Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

“You Are All Alive Today”


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

13 Av 5770
"Do not add on to that which I am commanding you and do not detract from it ... Your eyes have seen ... for every man who followed Ba’al Pe’or, Hashem, your G-d, destroyed from your midst. You have clung to Hashem, your G-d; you are all living today" (Devarim 4: 2-4). What is the connection between not adding to or detracting from the Torah and Ba’al Pe’or, an unseemly form of idol worship, whose classic service is defecating on the idol? Also, isn’t the contrast between the lowly Ba’al Pe’or and those who cling to Hashem extremely obvious! It is also difficult to understand the draw of Ba’al Pe’or, which Bilam figured could entice many Jews, considering that Bilam understood so much about Hashem.
A philosopher asked one of the rabbis about the logic of the mitzva of mila (circumcision), where one makes changes in the body that Hashem gave us. The rabbi proceeded to illustrate how there are all sorts of things in the world that are made useable or improved by human intervention, and this applies to a man’s body as well (Bereishit Rabba 11:6).
What should a person’s approach be? Is he intended to fight his tendencies? Is that which is natural better, and fighting to change it is just tampering with something good? Is it even realistic to fight something inborn? The Jewish approach is that we are supposed to perfect our nature, not accept it as is. We believe this can be accomplished because in addition to the nature we clearly see, there is a more internal nature that yearns to be the way Hashem wants us to be.
The philosophy of Ba’al Pe’or is to be happy with and proud of "what you are." Bilam knew that Hashem is holy but said that that is fine for Hashem but people cannot and therefore need not strive to be like Him. He said: "Let my soul die the death of straight people" (Bamidbar 23:10). Yes, he argued, when one is dead and the body stops working, that is the time to be holy.
The Torah provides an exact blueprint for developing a person. That which needs to be restrained, the Torah tells us to restrain. That is why we are commanded not to add or detract from the Torah. Following the Torah lifestyle, as it is given, promises spiritual tranquility, harmony between a person’s powers, stability, and contentment. Our eyes saw what happened to those who took on the approach of Ba’al Pe’or that what one feels like doing is what he should be doing. They reached destruction. Those who clung to Hashem are alive today.
Look at the life that is on display in contemporary society. Its idols, whether they are soccer players or movie stars, lose their charisma after a certain age, and they are thrown away unwanted to the side. In our Torah world, there are no two separate worlds for the old and the young. The aura of the old gives meaning to the young. The freshness of youth can be preserved in the old. "All of you are alive today."
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