Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shoftim
To dedicate this lesson

Parshat Shoftim


Rabbi Shubert Spero

Elul 5768
Neither shall you set up for yourself a matzevah (a single standing stone) which the Lord your God, despises (Deut. 16:22) Even though this form of worship was beloved in the days of the forefathers. You have been commanded to build an altar (mizbeach) of stones and an earthen altar (Rashi)
Rashi explains that once the practice of worship with a single standing stone (matzevah) was taken over by idol worshippers it became unfit for use by Israel even in the service of the one God. An additional explanation is offered by Rav S.R. Hirsch. He points out that changing attitudes towards a matzevah versus a mizbeach may have been a function of the historical period involved. Clearly, the era of the avot, constitutes the formative period of the nation of Israel, the inspired story of the development of the larger than life individuals who were not only our biological forbears but their composite personalities, the result of the many trials and challenges they experienced, represented the potential of every Jew since. In their day, the overall goal was to develop the individual personality in terms of its relationships within the family as well as its relations to outsiders and above all to God. Therefore to worship God by bringing libations on a
single standing stone was deemed quite appropriate as it symbolized the goal of that period, to develop the single perfected individual who stands in humble and obedient service to God.
After the Exodus, however, when the Bnai Yisroel had developed into a nation the appropriate platform for offerings to God becomes the mizbeach, an altar made of many stones. No longer is the perfection of the individual the highest goal, but rather the development of the collective, the nation, the amalgam of different personalities subordinating their individual interest for the common good, orchestrating their different talents to serve the needs of the people. This is graphically symbolized by the mizbeach whose basic structure depends entirely upon the cooperation of the individual components.
There is an important lesson here particularly for those of us still living in the Diaspora where one s highest goal as a Jew seems to be the production of the most learned and pious individual possible. The end goal of all of the many institutions we build and maintain in the Diaspora is precisely that and that alone for these collectives as such are partial and temporary. After 60 years of the restored Jewish State in Eretz Yisroel it should be clear that the matzevah, the single great one no longer represents Judaism s highest goal. Rather the challenge of our time is to build a sovereign Jewish collective that could truly be a light to the nations . The only appropriate form of worship today is the mizbeach, for each individual Jew to become part of the great miracle unfolding in our day. You wish your son to become the next godol hadar? By all means. But do it within the context of the new Jewish reality, while living in Israel.
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