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Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Three Pillars of Judaism - Part I - From Perakim B’Machshevet Yisrael, pp. 351-355
Although the whole Torah is one unit and we do not accept a candidate for conversion who accepts the whole Torah except one matter, we can still identify pillars of Judaism. There are three positive foundations which are the roots from which grow and branch out many sub-values. These three are: the mitzva of sanctifying Hashem’s Name; personal sanctity; and the sanctity of human life. Corresponding to these positive values are three cardinal, negative commandments: idol worship; adultery and incest; and murder. These sins were responsible for the First Temple’s destruction. The severity of these sins finds expression in the halacha that one must give his life rather than violate them, as opposed to other mitzvot where one normally violates the sin rather than give up his life. These three categories, which are united by the concept of sanctity, distinguish Bnei Yisrael, as the pasuk says, “I shall separate you from among the nations to be for Me” (Vayikra 20:26). Everything is connected to these principles, and damaging them or their offshoots brings tragedy.
Primitive forms of idol worship, like bowing down to wood and stone and forces of nature, existed in ancient times. However, there are present-day manifestations of lowly beliefs, in various forms of superstition. Idolatry means denying the Divine Control of the entire world, including when people replace the concept of Divine Control with false perceptions that objects possess independent abilities and influence. These false conceptions lower the image of G-d within the person and enslave him to lowly powers that his imagination created. This applies to powers that are within the person. This is how Chazal viewed a haughtiness that does not leave the proper room in one’s life for a full belief in G-d (see Arachin 15b). Similarly, “Whoever gets angry is as if he worshipped idol worship” (see Rambam, Deot 2:2). Chazal viewed the actions that stem from a person’s failure to keep his anger in check in the following way. “You shall not have in you a strange god, and you shall not bow down to a foreign god” (Tehillim 81:10) refers to the evil inclination, which is like a foreign god within a person’s body (Shabbat 105b). Indeed, any negative, human characteristic that takes over a person is an idolatry-related shortcoming.
The development of certain values, even innately positive ones of Divine origin, can be an idolatrous phenomenon if one views them independently of their Divine context. The danger is that when they become the high point of a person’s weltanschauung, they can cause him to “sacrifice human sacrifices” to these values and sanctify abominations. This is what happened in Soviet Russia, where, in the name of human equality, countless people were killed, imprisoned and tortured. They developed a military apparatus that threatened to bring a ruthless dictatorship to the entire world.
A similar thing happened when the value of nationalism took on exaggerated importance, giving rise to the Nazi movement and regime. The development of each nation’s natural traits can be positive for the world’s development. However, when nationalist tendencies give rise to a feeling that “only we matter,” they become a form of idolatry that can bring a situation where no means is considered unworthy to bring about the nation’s “success,” as we so painfully learned.
The Torah warned many times against the different forms of idol worship, strengthening the natural inclination toward belief in Hashem found in the heart of every Jew. Nevertheless, our new nation was guilty of the Sin of the Golden Calf and later generations got caught up in the trends of surrounding nations, ultimately causing the First Temple’s destruction. In our generation, as well, modern idolatrous tendencies exist. We need to develop an aptitude for recognizing these manifestations in order to resist their enticing qualities.
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