20 February 2008

To sit or not to sit ...not

This week’s Haftarah (parshas Ki Siso) quotes Prophet Elijah: “Ad mosai atem peis’chim al shtei asifim” – How long will you be jumping on two swords!? This was prompted by various divisions and conflicts within the Jewish people and had much to do with the Jews’ involvement in idol worship at that time. Elijah gathered together all the prophets of Baal and confronted the Jews “How long…” At first glance it would’ve been more appropriate for Elijah to have said - “Until when will you be following Baal, it is time you stopped worshipping Baal and proclaimed “Hashem Hu HaElokim”! This will be understood by examining the differences between ordinary idol worship and the type referred to by Elijah as “Until when…” or “sitting on the fence”.

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The Rambam writes that the origins of idol worship lie in the fact that early on people mistakenly ascribed powers to heavenly bodies in the belief that they controlled material wellbeing and sustenance. The truth is that, even though Divine influence is channeled through stars, etc., they are no more than “an axe in the hands of the Chopper”

Torah explains that to extend any kind of recognition to stars and constellation is a crime. This sin is particularly severe because the worshipper in essence denies the entire Torah. It turns out that although the primary motive for idol worship was for one’s material needs, in essence the Jewish people had no desire to deny the Torah. It is just that they thought that idol worship was not a “real” worship at all.

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So although idol worship really stems from one’s desires for material comforts, we can trace two distinct modes within it. One is Avoda Zora – “strange worship”, the other being “jumping on two…” or the “fence-sitter” type.

Avoda Zora is a situation when a person does believe that the idol will provide him with his material needs. So, although his motivation is strictly personal gain, he seriously and sincerely believes that the stars and constellation will provide. The “ fence-sitter” type is in contrast. based on a doubt and those that are involved in it can be divided into two groups:

One – this includes those who are in doubt and once in a while begin to realize that
idol worship lacks any substance at all while at other times such individuals are akin to to those who involve themselves in idol worship “ for real”. The other type are those who believe in a type of a partnership, they do believe in G-d and at the same time resort to idol worship.

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From this we can see that in many respects, “sitting on the fence” is more egregious than Avoda Zora. Yet, although “pure” Avoda Zora is a more severe transgression than “fence sitting”, from the perspective of tshuva, it is harder to repent for a fence-sitter than for a “plain” idol worshipper.

The reason for this is as follows

1. The “pure” idol worshipper has an easier time repenting upon realization how mistaken he was. The “sitter” on the other hand, is more conflicted, he does not realize the full severity of his descent and calms himself by thinking that he always had doubts about his idol worship. He thus is unable to fully repent.

2. The “pure” idol worshipper (no partnership) is completely decadent and believes that the Baal is the true G-d. Still, the possibility exists that, although he is separated from the true G-d, he somehow maintains some measure of spirituality.

The “sitter”, on the other hand , by virtue of his sin, demonstrates that not only does he not have a connection to Hashem, moreover, he has no connection with the spiritual. The proof lies in the fact that even though he realizes that Hashem is the true G-d, he is ready to betray Him when it comes to material concerns. The sitter is also dangerous in that, outwardly, he has the “look and feel” of an observant Jew and is thus capable of misleading others.

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The Talmud states that the drive for idol worship in its pure form has largely dissipated whereas the “sitters” continue to exist.

The Haftarah concludes that the Jewish people repented and declared twice “Hashem Hu HaElokim” as opposed to a single declaration during the giving of the Torah when G-d declared ‘I am Hashem your G-d”. It’s explained that when a Jew repents, he reaches a level that is much higher than that before the sin – “twice the strength” And twice - not in a numerical sense but in the sense that the second time is incomparably greater than the first. Likewise, every “sitter” needs to return to G-d with “twice the strength”. This will not only influence the “sitter” but will have a positive effect on all who may have been negatively influenced by him as is known “all Jews are responsible for one another”.

Based on the Purim sicha, 5716

1 comment:

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