Posts Tagged ‘idolatry’

In Yesterday’s post I shared from Nefesh haChayim the reason our bodies produce physical waste, that is, that most foods have a component that nourishes the spirit, and elements that do not. The body absorbs that which nourishes and excretes the rest. As a result, the generation that ate manna in the desert did not “go to the bathroom” since the manna from heaven was all nourishing.

Nefesh haChayim goes on to explain the connection between this concept and the worship of the idol known as Baal Peor. According to our traditional sources, Baal Peor was worship by performing one’s bathroom functions onto the idol. What is the reason for this bizarre (and disgusting) practice? How could this be a form of worship?

According to the above, however, the answer is understandable. The physical waste of the body represents everything that is completely of this physical world with no spiritual connection, no connection to the soul. Those who worshipped Baal Peor engaged in the most extreme form of hedonism, indulging the body only, with no limitations of the soul, no connection to God, no obeisance to a Higher Power. That is why those who worshipped Baal Peor (the daughters of Midyan) engaged in immoral sexuality and seduced the Israelites to do the same. They worshipped only the physical, with no spiritual component. So their form of worship involved the act revolving around that substance that has no spiritual component — excrement.

Once again I offer a new, narrative presentation of the 3rd chapter of the book of Jeremiah, incorporating classic commentaries into the text. The color coding is as follows: 

Rashi

Targum

Radak

Metzudah

My own words (for clarity)

Please enjoy, comment and share. And without further ado:

Jeremiah continued speaking in the name of HaShem. (1) “I could say you are no longer worthy of me, for if a man sends away his wife, and she goes from him and becomes the wife of another man, will the first husband return to her again? Behold, the land would surely be corrupted by such an act! And you have been unfaithful with many lovers! Nevertheless, return to Me! (2) Lift up your eyes upon the high places and see! Where have you not lied down? Upon the ways you have sat, ready for your lovers, like an Arab in the wilderness, and you have corrupted the land with your unfaithfulness and your evil. (3) The early rains have been held back, and the latter rains did not occur, yet you have had the brazenness of an unfaithful woman, you have refused to be ashamed. (4) If only from this moment you would repent of your wickedness and call to Me, ‘My Father, You are the Teacher of my youth!’ (5) Would your Lord bear against you forever that which you sinned toward Him? Would He hold onto it for eternity? He would not hold onto it! Behold, you have declared, ‘We will not come to You again,’ and that evil you will perform, paying no mind to repentance, and you will succeed in rebelling absolutely.

(6) In the days of King Josiah, HaShem commanded Jeremiah to bring back the Ten Tribes of Israel. A portion of them returned in the 18th year of Josiah (Rashi, v. 12). HaShem said to Jeremiah, “Did you see what the wayward Ten Tribes of Israel did? They would go up on every high mountain, and under every fresh tree and act unfaithfully to Me there, serving idols. (7) And I said through My prophets Amos and Hoshea son of Be’eri and others, after she (Israel) had done all this, ‘Return to Me!’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw that Israel was exiled, but Judah did not learn their lesson. (8) And I saw that Judah saw everything that happened because wayward Israel was unfaithful, that I sent Israel away, and I gave to Israel her document of divorce, but treacherous Judah, Israel’s sister, did not fear that I would send her away also, and did not consider repentance, rather, Judah went and acted unfaithfully also. (9) Because her unfaithfulness was light in her eyes, the land became corrupt; in her unfaithfulness she served stone and wood. (10) And even with all this, having seen the downfall and punishment of Israel, her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, rather falsely.” The generation of Josiah showed themselves to be righteous while they were actually wicked. They made images of idols on the insides of their doorways, half on one side and half on the other, so that when those seeking to eliminate idolatry would inspect the homes, the door would be open and the images were not recognizable.

(11) HaShem said to Jeremiah, “Wayward Israel has exonerated herself of judgment, for she did not have from whom to learn, as opposed to treacherous Judah. (12) Go and call out these words to the north, to the places where Israel was exiled, to Assyria, and say, ‘Return O Wayward Israel! I will not send my wrath against you, because I am abundant in kindness. I will not hold your sins against you forever. (See v. 6 above.) (13) But know your sin, for you rebelled against HaShem your God, and you were unfaithful to HaShem, spreading your legs for strangers under every fresh tree, and you did not listen to My voice. (14) Return, O rebellious sons! For I have been your master, and you have therefore been called by My name, and for you to remain among the nations takes away from My honor. Therefore, I will take you out of exile, even though you remain one in a city of gentiles, or two among an entire gentile nation, and I will bring you to Zion. (15) I will give you leaders who perform My will, and they will lead you with knowledge and wisdom. (16) And it will be, when you multiply and increase in the land in those days, they will no longer say, ‘The Ark of the Covenant of HaShem,’ nor will it even be a thought, nor will they remember it, nor will they consider it, nor will that be done with it which was done in Shiloh, when the Ark was brought out to war against the Philistines in the days of Eili the High Priest, for whole congregation will be holy, and I will dwell in the congregation as though it is the Ark. (17) At that time they will call Jerusalem the Throne of HaShem, and all the nations will gather to it for the sake of HaShem’s name, to Jerusalem, and they will not go anymore after the thoughts of their wicked heart. (18) In those days, the House of Judah will walk with the House of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to their forefathers, becoming one kingdom.

(19) “I had thought, ‘How can I place you, My daughter, My congregation and My nation, among sons, among other nations, among idol worshippers?’ Therefore I set aside a better portion for you, giving you a desirable land, a portion that is the envy of the host of nations, and I said, ‘Call me Father, and do not turn away from Me.’ (20) However, you did not do as I wished, rather like a woman who betrays her beloved because he is unable to provide her needs, so you betrayed Me, O House of Israel, though I provide you with every good thing. (21) Over the rise, in the near future, the sound of the begging cries of the Children of Israel can be heard, for they have perverted their ways, they have forgotten HaShem their God. (22) Return O rebellious sons! I will forgive your rebellion!’”

Yirmiyahu then instructed the people to confess to HaShem and say, “Behold, we have come to You, for you are HaShem our God! (23) Indeed, for naught we hoped for salvation from false gods that we worshipped upon hills and in multitudes upon mountains! Indeed, by HaShem our God is the salvation of Israel! (24) Because of our shame, that we worshipped false gods, the toil of our fathers has been consumed from our youth, their sheep and their cattle, their sons and their daughters. (25) We will lie down in shame because of our sins, and our degradation will cover us, for we and our fathers have sinned to HaShem our God from our youth until this day, and we did not listen to the voice of HaShem our God.”

I have rendered Jeremiah Chapter 1 into a flowing English narrative incorporating selections of classic commentaries, primarily Rashi, also drawing from Targum and Radak. I would love for this to be a springboard for discussion.

Jeremiah, Chapter 1

Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, a Kohen (priest) from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, was descended from Rahab the harlot. Despite his humble lineage, he was more righteous than those in his generation who were of prestigious lineage, and therefore was chosen by God to rebuke his generation. Jeremiah began prophesying in the 13th year of King Josiah son of Amon, when the Divine Presence (Shechinah) began to dwell upon him. He prophesied throughout the rest of Josiah’s reign, and throughout the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, and the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah, until the 11th year of Zedekiah, in the 5th month, when Jerusalem was exiled.

God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I had already revealed to Adam, from the beginning of time, who the prophets of each generation would be for all time, including you. Before you emerged from the womb, I prepared you for this purpose. I already told Moses, ‘I will raise up a prophet for them… like you’ (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy refers to you, Jeremiah. You are a prophet like Moses, for just as Moses rebuked Israel, so shall you rebuke Israel. Just as Moses prophesied for forty years, so shall you prophesy for forty years. I have made you a prophet who will prophesy to Israel, a nation that behaves as though it is the same as the other nations of the world, not fulfilling the unique mission that I have commanded them. You will also prophesy regarding the calamities that will befall the nations of the world because of their wickedness.”

Jeremiah said to God: “But Lord, behold, I am unable to rebuke the people, for I am yet a lad. Moses rebuked the people close to his death. By that time, Israel already regarded Moses highly because of all the miracles he had performed for their benefit throughout many years. He took them out of Egypt and split the sea for them. He brought down the manna and swarms of quail for them to eat. He gave them the Torah and drew water from the rock. Therefore he could also rebuke them and they would listen. But you ask me to rebuke them at the very beginning of my career!”

God said to Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a lad,’ for you shall go to the nations of the world if I send you to them, and you shall speak to the people of Israel the words I tell you. Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you.”

God sent His prophetic words and arranged them in Jeremiah’s mouth. God said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms to uproot and to smash and to annihilate and to destroy, for as you prophesy regarding them, so shall befall them. But as for Israel, you are appointed to build and to plant, if they listen and repent.”

God spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

Jeremiah said, “I see an almond branch, representing a king who is quick to do evil, as the almond tree is quicker to blossom than other trees.” 

God said to Jeremiah, “You have seen well. Just as this almond blossoms more quickly than other trees, so am I quick to carry out my word. It takes twenty-one days for the almond to ripen, just as there shall be twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem will be breached, until the 9th of Av, when the Temple will be destroyed.”

God spoke to Jeremiah again, saying, “What do you see?”

Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot, bubbling up on the north side.”

God said to Jeremiah, “From Babylonia, which is in the north, shall the evil come forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling to all the families of the kingdoms of the north, and each man shall set his seat at the opening of the gates of Jerusalem, and upon all its walls around, and upon all the cities of Judah. And I shall pronounce judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for all their evil, for abandoning me and burning incense to other gods, and bowing to the works of their hands. And you, Jeremiah, brace yourself, and rise up, and speak to them all that I shall command you. Do not fear them, lest I break you before them. Behold, today I have made you strong as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as copper walls to pronounce retribution against all the inhabitants of the land: the kings of Judah, its officers, its priests and the common people. They will judge you and strive against you to suppress your prophetic words, but they will not succeed against you, for I am with you, to save you.”

tent

“For pass over to the isles of the Kittites, and see, and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, which yet are no gods? But My people has changed its glory for that which does not benefit.”

Jeremiah 2:10-11

“The Kittites and Kedarites are tent dwellers and cattle herders. They travel nomadically from pasture to pasture, from wilderness to wilderness, carrying their gods with them to the place where they encamp. I, however, carried you until I established you firmly, but you abandoned me.” (Commentary of Rashi)

Yehoash did what was upright in the eyes of the Almighty all his days, as Yehoyada the Kohen taught him.”

Rashi:

‘All his days, as Yehoyada taught him’ — But once Yehoyada died, then ‘the officers of Judah came to prostate themselves to the king’ (II Chronicles 24:17), and they deified him. They said to him: ‘One who enters the Holy of Holies for even one moment is in danger of death, but you hid there for six years! You are fitting to be a god!’ ‘Then he listened to them’ (ibid).

Seder Olam Rabah 18:

After the death of Yehoyada the Kohen, Yoash made himself into a deity, as it says, ‘They prostrated themselves to the king… Then the king listened to them’ (II Chronicles 24).

Shemoth Rabah 8:3:

From where do we know that Yoash made himself into a deity? As it says: ‘And after the death of Yehoyada, the officers of Judah came and prostrated themselves to the king. Then the king listened to them’ (II Chronicles 24). What is the meaning of, ‘and they prostrated themselves to the king’? That they made him into a deity. They said to him: ‘If you were not a god, you would not have come out after seven years in the Holy of Holies.’ He said to them, ‘It is so!’ And he accepted upon himself to become a deity.

Matenoth Kehunah (comments to Sh”R):

‘After seven years’ – from his birth. But he was only hidden six years, for so it is written in II Chronicles 24.

‘You would not have come out…’ – As it is written, ‘And the stranger who approaches shall die,’ and even the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would only enter on Yom Kipur (the Day of Atonement), and with incense, and prayer and immersion, and if you were not a god, you would not have been able to remain alive there.

B’Midbar Rabah 23:13 (also Tanchuma Masey 12):

You find as long as Yehoyada was alive, Yoash acted according to the will of his Creator, as it says, ‘Yoash did what was upright in the eyes of the Almighty all his days that Yehoyada the Kohen guided him.’ ‘After the death of Yehoyada, the officers of Judah came and prostrated themselves to the king. Then the king listened to them’ (II Chronicles 24), accepting upon himself to made into a deity.

See also Agadath B’Reshith 49

inn (2)

In Chapter 5 of II Kings, we read of Naaman, the general of Aram, who comes to the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. Long story short, Elisha heals Naaman, and Naaman wishes to repay Elisha. The prophet, however, will not accept payment.

[As an aside, I feel it important to note that we learn from Elisha that any so-called “miracle workers” today who offer their services in exchange for money are undoubtedly charlatans preying on vulnerable people for personal gain. This is not the way of great men. STAY FAR AWAY! For more on this, follow the work of James Randi, who spent his life exposing so-called “psychics” and other fakers of supernatural abilities. Our rabbis teach us, however, that the reddest herring is the one who demands to be paid. Elisha was the real deal.]

So Elisha won’t accept payment, but Elisha’s less scrupulous steward, Gechazi, pursues Naaman and accepts his gifts. Elisha, not unaware of what Gechazi has done (he is a prophet after all), curses Gechazi with Naaman’s leprosy, effectively banishing Gechazi from his presence.

The Talmud in Sotah 47A criticizes Elisha for his harshness with Gechazi, and indeed compares him to one of the Sages during Second Temple times who likewise shunned a student too harshly, leading to unimaginably dark consequences for the Jewish people:

Sotah

Our Sages taught: One should always push away with the left and bring close with the right, not like Elisha who pushed away Gechazi with both his hands, and not like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah who pushed away one of his students with both his hands…

The Talmud recounts both incidents in great detail. The Talmudic account of the interaction between Elisha and Gechazi is more detailed than that in Scripture. I hope to return to this in a later post. For now, let us focus on the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah and “one of his students,” whose identity we know from uncensored editions of the Talmud to be “Yeshu haNotzri,” widely believed to be the same personage as Jesus of Nazareth. Christian censors in the Middle Ages had these passages stricken from standard editions of the Talmud.

According to this Talmudic passage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah, while traveling from Alexandria to Jerusalem with a group of his disciples, one of whom was this Yeshu, stopped in a certain inn for lodging. The innkeepers showed Rabbi Yehoshua very great respect, and Rabbi Yehoshua spoke praisingly of his hosts. This Yeshu took Rabbi Yehoshua’s praise to refer specifically to the beauty of their hostess, and Yeshu made a remark to his teacher about the woman’s eyes. Rabbi Yehoshua was so offended by Yeshu’s predilection for the physical beauty of a married woman that he excommunicated him. Day after day, Yeshu tried to return to his teacher but was rebuffed. One day, when Rabbi Yehoshua had finally resolved to accept Yeshu’s penance and retract his excommunication, Yeshu arrived just as Rabbi Yehoshua was reciting the Shema and hence unable to respond to him. Rabbi Yehoshua held up a hand as if to say, “wait,” but Yeshu interpreted the hand signal as another rejection. Yeshu gave up trying to return to gain Rabbi Yehoshua’s forgiveness and turned instead to establishing a renegade religion. Rabbi Yehoshua tried pursuing Yeshu to convince him to repent, but Yeshu responded, “I learned from you that anyone who sins and causes the masses to sin has no opportunity for repentance!” The passage concludes that Yeshu practiced sorcery, led others toward idolatry, and caused Israel to sin.

This story, along with that of Elisha and Gechazi became the archetype for the Rabbis’ teaching that one should be careful not to push others away too strongly, only with the left (weaker) hand, while bringing close with the right (stronger) hand.

The story of Elisha and Gechazi likewise led to exceedingly tragic consequences for the nation of Israel, arguably worse than those of the above episode. But this is a story to be explored in another post. Stay tuned.

Some random chasidish kollel.

I recall a number of years ago, while learning in the kollel at Yeshivas Toras Moshe (for a time underneath the guidance of Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Hy”d), a conversation I had with another great sage who taught at the yeshiva, Rabbi Michel Shurkin. Rabbi Shurkin is famed as a close disciple of both Rabbi Yosef Dov (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, both revered leaders of the Jewish people in their time.

While I initiated the conversation (I don’t recall about what), Rabbi Shurkin turned the topic toward myself, asking about myself, my background, etc. It came up that I was from a small Jewish community in Brooklyn in the neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, which I had been away from during my (at that point) five plus years studying in Israel. Yet, I related, the community had gone through a sort of renaissance under the leadership of its (then) new rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Plutchok, and that I had heard it continued to expand and expand since I had left it, particularly following the opening of a kollel in the neighborhood.

Rabbi Shurkin offered this sentiment in response to my remark about the kollel. “When I was young, ‘kollel’ was a dirty word. But today, everyone understands — kollel is the key!” I can still remember Rabbi Shurkin’s distinctive hand motion as he said those words, like he was turning an imaginary key in the air. In other words, Rabbi Shurkin was describing the modern phenomenon of the successful growth of Jewish communities correlating to the opening of “community kollelim.”

However, Rabbi Shurkin also referred to the negative sentiment toward kollel that was prevalent in his younger years, though it certainly still exists in great force today, even within communities of Jews who self-identify as Torah observant.

So what is the view of authentic Jewish tradition toward Torah scholars being supported by a stipend in order to continue Torah study? While this topic is too large to tackle all at once, let us catch a glimpse of the traditional position as I discovered it while continuing my daily Tanach study.

My chapter of Tanach for today was I Kings (Melachim Aleph) ch. 21. It describes the tragic story of how the abominable King Ahab (Achav), together with his irredeemably wicked wife Jezebel (Izevel), desiring the land belonging to his neighbor Navoth the Jezreelite, conspires to have Navoth framed for a capital offense and executed. Once this is done, Ahab confiscates Navoth’s land. The prophet describes the diabolical Ahab as follows:

Melachim21-25

“Only there was none like Ahab, who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, who was led astray by his wife Jezebel” (21:25).

So it sounds like Ahab was THE WORST — “there was NONE like Ahab who SOLD HIMSELF to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty”!

Yet, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102B) makes a surprising statement about this same Ahab:

Sanhedrin102B

“Rav Nachman said: Ahab’s sins weighed equally to his merits.”

WHAT!?!?!? How can this be? This question is not lost on the Talmudic sages, who follow up this radical statement with just this question.

“Rav Yoseph challenges this: The person about whom it is written, ‘Only there was none like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, whose was led astray by his wife Jezebel,’ and about whom we have learned (via oral tradition): ‘Every day she would weigh out golden coins to idols’ — and you say his sins weighed equally to his merits!”

Good question, eh? Now hear the Talmud’s astounding answer:

“Ahab was generous with his money, and since he benefited Torah scholars with his possessions, that atoned for half of his wickedness (so that he was considered half righteous).”

As I understand it, this means that just as Ahab allotted of his money to be donated to idol worship, he equally gave of his money to benefit the learning of Torah scholars. In other words, his monetary support of kollelim was a mitzvah of such great weight that it atoned for his great wickedness, about which the text is so emphatic.

In conclusion, it certainly seems that support for Torah study is a cause of the greatest merit, and should be valued by all Jews, even, or perhaps most of all, by those who have much to atone for.