Beit Midrash

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What Natural Living Is


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Our parasha contains central themes that are thrust together in a curious manner. "Do not add on to that which I am commanding you and do not detract from it ... Your eyes have seen that which Hashem has done with Ba’al Peor, for all who followed Ba’al Peor, Hashem has destroyed from before you. You are those who have clung to Hashem, your G-d, you are all alive today" (Devarim 4:2-4). The contrast is too great between Ba’al Peor, one of the lowliest forms of idol worship, in which one defecates on the idol, and those who cling to Hashem. Would we have thought that we could compare the two? Is something as subtle as not adding on or subtracting from the Torah comparable or even contrastable with Ba’al Peor? It is also hard to understand how Bilam, who, when all is said and done, was a prophet, could suggest to interest Bnei Yisrael with such a lowly type of idolatry?
There was a famous discussion between a philosopher and Rabbi Hoshaya regarding why Hashem had to command the Jewish People to perform mila if He could have just made sure that we were all created correctly (Bereishit Rabba 11:6). Rabbi Hoshaya explained that everything in the world was created so that it would need to be fixed. In general there is a question of how one should deal with the inclinations he is born with or naturally develops. Should he fight them, or should he accept the inclinations as things that Hashem wants us to have? Is it even possible to defy that which is natural and change oneself?
The Jewish outlook is that we should not rely on nature to lead us to the correct path and that it is possible to overcome our apparent tendencies. As a matter of fact, we believe that there is a natural side of us that is more internal, which actually opposes the liberties that the more externally noticeable inclinations encourage us to take.
The idea of Peor was to do whatever it is you do (including defecation) and that is the service of this idol. "Be what you are, without being embarrassed, and don’t try to be what you are not." Based on this outlook, Bilam, while knowing his Maker, purposely rebelled against Him in the following manner. His philosophy was that Hashem is indeed perfect but we are not and we need not try to be closer to perfection. He said: "Let my soul die the death of the straight" (Bamidbar 23:10). Only at the time of death, when the body ceases to work anyway, was he interested in being straight, but during life, he wanted to be "natural."
The Torah has an exact recipe for proceeding morally and spiritually through the mitzvot of the Torah. For that reason, we are commanded not to add on or subtract. It is, by means of example, like a healthy, balanced diet. When you have the balance, then you have harmony between the different elements and stability. That’s why the Torah stresses the matter of Ba’al Peor. It shows what happens to those who want to just accept nature as is and do not want to accept the Torah’s blueprint for our spiritually healthy living. "You are all alive today." It stresses "today" because it is every day that we need to follow the words of Hashem and every day should be like the day the Torah was received. We are not like the followers of soccer stars and movie stars, who grow old and lose their appeal. We believe in the youth being imbued with attributes of the old and the old remaining youthful. "All are alive today!"
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