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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Mishpatim

Parashat Mishpatim

Imitating the Locals

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At the end of this week"s parasha, God informs the Jewish people about their entry into the Land of Israel. He tells them that the nations inhabiting the land will be chased out gradually, so as to ensure that the land doesn"t turn desolate as it becomes populated by the Jews. God then forbids the Jewish people to worship the idols that they will find in the land, and commands them to refrain from replicating the actions of its current inhabitants. A number of questions may be raised: Since all idol worship is prohibited, what is the significance of these additional warnings? And since this worship is so repugnant to God, one would have thought that the quicker these nations are removed from the land, the better! Why do it slowly?

In answer to the first question, the Or Hachaim Kakadosh explains that the Torah comes here to prohibit activities that are not actually idolatrous, but nevertheless part of the culture of an idolatrous society. The Netziv explains further that there was a special danger of following a system that had been in place and had worked for the inhabitants of the land which the Jews would now take over. After their victory, they might find it appropriate to imitate the local forms of worship, redirecting those activities towards God. The Torah comes to teach us that in the Land of Israel, no foreign influences should taint the purity of Jewish life.

And yet, God allows these people, corrupt as they may be, to remain until they are replaced by Jews behaving in accordance with the Torah, since desolation and abandonment of the Land of Israel create such an undesirable situation.

It appears that God does not allow a vacuum in the Land of Israel. Foreign inhabitants of the land are only removed as their place is filled by Jews. And those Jews should be populating the land with lives and a society that are built on authentic service to God.

Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky , Jerusalem
Rabbi Karlinsky grew up in Los Angeles, arriving in Israel in 1968 to learn in Kerem B"Yavneh. Outside of two years spent in graduate school in Philadelphia, he has been in Israel ever since. He is the co-founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Darche Noam/Shapell"s and Midreshet Rachel, Yeshivot for English speaking college graduates and young professionals. Thousands of students have been educated there, and many hundreds of them are now living in Israel. Their website can be found at http://www.darchenoam.org

Shabbat Shalom.

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