Friday, August 21, 2009

Kol Brisk on Parshas Shoftim

Parashas Shoftim

ולא תקים לך מצבה אשר שנא ה' אלקיך.
"And do not erect for yourself a single-stone altar, that Hashem, your G-d, despises."

Rashi:  A matzaiva is an altar comprised of one single stone for bringing sacrifices, even to Heaven.  Hashem despises matzaivos, for this was a practice of the kenaanim.  Even though in the days of the Avos the single-stone altar was favoured by Him, it is now despised for it was made into a practice of idol worship.

Why are specifically matzaivos despised by Hashem?  Didn't the kenaanim also have regular altars constructed of many stones??  What makes the matzaiva-altar so traife?


The Shaim miShmuel explains that the mizbeiach constructed of many stones represents the Shvatim, the twelve tribes of Klal Yisrael who all come together as one.  This is a prerequisite for serving Hashem.  Even though every person has his or her own individual characteristics and achievements and priorities, we all come together as one in the service of G-d.  It is not possible to present ourselves before G-d as separate, independent individuals.  It is a basic reality that all Jews are equal.  Avodas Hashem does not tolerate any class distinctions.  The ban on an altar of only one stone, the matzaiva, underscores this principle.


In the time of the Avos, matzaiva-altars were permitted and favored because the souls of the Avos were each as the soul of the whole nation.


The kenaanim, however, took the notion of matzaiva and incorporated it into their idolatrous rites.  They, in essence, are not one being as is Klal Yisrael, but are an odd, disparate and fragmented conglomerate of individuals.  Their matzaiva-altar, unlike those erected by the Avos, is despised.


After the time of the Avos, Am Yisrael cannot present themselves before the Shechina as individuals, but must identify with the whole of Klal Yisrael.


A few years ago, someone commented that today, there are no leaders recognized by all the groups.  Each religious group has its own leaders to whom they look for guidance, but we lack leaders that are accepted across the board.


Before we look to assess and give marks to the Manhigim of today, let us assess ourselves.  Have you ever noticed the trend, the phenomenon rampant today of people barricading themselves into social fortresses, the unifying factor varying, sometimes political affiliation, sometimes common lineage, neighborhood, affiliation with a specific institution, etc.  A great amount of effort is expended in order to fortify these strongholds.  Thus, the wherewithal of all these structures becomes very sophisticated.  There is a complete private vocabulary and communication network, humor, grading system that is developed, exclusively understood and used by the members of these barricaded cliques among themselves and their fans.


Chazal teach us, "Greet every Jew with a bright countenance." Why?

Because every single Jew has a G-dly soul, every single Jew has a great contribution to make, has something to teach and to give, whether or not it is in the realm of our perception.  If, chas vashalom, we don't grasp this very basic concept, then obviously there is something lacking in our entire perspective of things.  Obviously, this warped view will have its effect on the entire system.

The social clique and investment in it is basically a type of refuge for the person running away from himself.


One hundred and fifty years ago, there lived in Lithuania a great tzaddik, the spiritual mentor of the Chafetz Chaim.  His name was R' Nachum Horodniker.  The Chofetz Chaim said about R' Nachum that he perfected his neshama to its maximum capacity in this world!!   Rav Nachum Horodniker taught that a person needs others to learn from, to teach, to give and to receive.  However,  his main life work is drawing the vast resources from within himself, developing and purifying this essence. There is no better circumstance to achieve this than solitude. (excerpt from "Rabbi Nachum'ke maiHorodno", p.134)


Do not misunderstand!!!  The message here is not to be "antisocial", dissociated from others.  On the contrary, those that are very involved in the society game turn out to be most unsocial.  It is difficult to get them even to look at outsiders, let alone greet them with a cheerful face..  And an excellent example of how sociable is the one who shuns the social pursuit is the tzaddik, R' Nachum.  He rejoiced in every Jew's simcha.  He bore the pain and carried on his thin frame the plight of all.  He gave five shiurim  a day, both to the learned and to the unlearned.  He spent his days and nights dragging his sick feet through snow and wind, collecting for the needy; the destitute, widows, orphans...


The social clique is a great diversion.  It is a great drain of time and of energy.  It deludes the person into a false feeling of complacency, of greatness, of accomplishment; that he belongs and is identified with a "most significant address, involved in most vital and distinctive activities."  This can consume his entire self definition, this becomes his self-importance, this becomes his complete frame of reference.   He ceases to be aware that others in Klal Yisrael exist and function significantly, also outside of his circle.  He ceases to be cognizant of others and of their feelings and their needs and qualities.  He becomes barricaded into his social group; his prejudices and feelings of superiority locking him into his place, apart from the Klal. His ability to perceive spiritual horizons is impaired, his religious experience becomes one-dimensional, flat, non-dynamic and dull.


Sacrifice on an altar of one stone is despised by Hashem and forbidden.  It is an idolatrous rite, identified with the kenaanim.

Rashi warns, the matzaiva-altar is despised, even for the sake of Heaven.  Many of these groups are formed with goals and criteria that seem to be b'ruchnius, spiritual and religious in nature.  However, if the ruchnius is contingent on feelings of exclusiveness and elitism, on disdain and disregard for others who are not affiliated with the group, this is a sure sign that there are private egos and interests involved, and that something is amiss.


V'yachaid levavainu l'ahava ul'yira es Sh'mecha..
Unify our hearts to love and to fear Your Name..

Chodesh tov umevorach,

A gutten Erev Shabbos,
from Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh

No comments: