Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Idol worship for the masses

Due to the vast amount of interest expressed by certain people I am happy to now present a synopsis of the Maamar "B'yom Ashtei Assar 5731". Many ideas contained in the Maamar won't be present here, because 1. I'm lazy, and 2. It would require a lot of work. Are those one and the same? Possibly. Anyway, today I'll give you the first four (of 13) sections, and tomorrow...well, we'll see what tomorrow brings. So here goes.

In the first part of the month of Nissan it has become customary to recite the portions of the Torah which deal with the offerings of the Princes of the Twelve Tribes. The Prince for the 11th day of Nissan, the Rebbe's birthday, was from the tribe of Asher. The Medrash says that each tribe is named with the redemption and praise of Israel in mind. The Prince of Asher, Pagiel Ben Achran, brought his because of the Jew's choice of Hashem to be their L-rd, and Hashem's choice of the Jew's to be his special nation. The immediate question is that it's only possible to make a choice between two things which are either equal or at least comparable. Between Hashem and all other (false) gods, there can be no comparison, and the same goes for the Jew and the non-Jew, the reason for which you should consult Tanya, Chapter 49.

We can understand this by first prefacing with an explanation given by the Medrash of the verse, in Eicha 3,24, "Hashem is my portion' says my soul, 'therefore I have hope in Him". The Medrash says that this is like the parable of a king who comes to a country, surrounded by his many ministers, and the populace of the country come out to greet him. One person there says, "I choose this minister to represent and help me," while another picks one of the satraps. A third man chooses one of the King's secretaries. There was one smart man present who said, "I choose the King, because all the others are temporary, but the King lasts forever." So too the nations of the world serve the sun, moon, stars, or constellations, but the Jewish people only serve Hashem. The question is, what's the genius involved in picking the King? Everyone knows a King is much greater than his employees. And what's the reason the wise man gives, that the King lasts forever? Even if the King is just as temporary as his ministers, he's still greater.

Back in the earliest generations, when man first began to serve false gods, the feeling was that it was necessary. Just like a person thanks and tips a waiter for bringing him food, even though the waiter obviously had no hand in the preparation of the food, one should thank the sun and the moon for giving him sustenance. The people thought that just like the waiter does have some choice whether to present the food or not (and after all, he could have spit in it), the moon and constellations have some say in the amount of G-dly sustenance they pass onto man. The mistake of these people was that they didn't realize that the heavenly bodies are only like an axe in the hand of a woodchopper, a tool made by G-d and directed solely by Him. The early idolaters thought that they could influence the celestial bodies to give them more than they were supposed to get.
From this mistake came an even greater one, the belief that Hashem had left the world in the hands of his creations and therefore they were the be-all and end-all of divine service. They thought that this situation was comparable to a King who appoints a governor to rule over a province, leaving it entirely except in times of great need.
Obviously this isn't true, and Hashem continues to sustain the world in exactly the same manner as when he first created it 5768 years ago. It takes the wisdom of the Jewish people to know this, and therefore they don't serve the false gods, who only appear to run things, but rather worship the one true G-d.

There is only one problem with this explanation. The parable presented by the Medrash features ministers who have free choice, and therefore choosing them does positively impact the benefit they give out. We can therefore understand that service of the King itself, rather than the results it brings, is what the wise man seeks. From this we can understand in real life, that the reason the nations of the world worship the sun and stars is not because of their mistake, but because they would rather have physical benefits than serve G-d. There are two advantages to idol worship over G-d worship. The first is that the benefits provided by the idols is not dependent on self-nullification, and the second is that the benefit itself is greater than that received from choosing to benefit solely from the side of holiness.
In the desert the Israelites complained that they ate for free in Egypt; what they were saying is that their physical sustenance came without any corresponding spiritual struggle. The side of holiness only allows for benefit when the right thing is done, and even then it only gives according to a person's work. Kelipos get their life-force from a source above nature, where there are no barriers, and therefore they can provide virtually unlimited sustenance.
According to this explanation, the greatness of the Jew is that he declines to associate himself with the forces of darkness and instead chooses Hashem, even though this means he must work hard for less.

So that was the first four parts of the Maamar. Don't worry, there's more to come. As it turned out, I'm doing a lot of line-by-line translation, which isn't a bad thing, but also means that it's going a lot slower than I anticipated. Additionally, it might seem to some people that the subject matter doesn't speak to them, after all, who in America today worships the sun or the moon? The truth is that this does apply to us, because we often make the same mistake as our ancestors. We too place our trust in nature, in ourselves, in any power but the true One. For some people, going to university has become a religion, the only path to true wealth being found through the hallowed halls of our educational institutions. For other people, that path is the stock market, the government, or even the family farm. The truth we must recognize however is that all these are merely tools in the hand of a Skilled Craftsman, and it is not they must be worshiped but rather the Power that directs the world through them.


Anonymous said...

its an amazing maamer, and i appreciate the review!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. R. Shliach: as I have not learnt this Maamer before, I am very appreciative of your taking the time and effort to provide it in translation. Perhaps this is discussed later, but another reason why idols are worshiped (idols in a broad sense that is) is that human beings relate best to that which they can actually see, feel, taste etc. Consequently a large statue in a huge marble building with delicate carvings on the walls and painting on the ceiling is easier to "worship" than something that requires our intellect to struggle with. While I acknowledge that "seeing" the natural world, how it functions etc. provides insight into the existence of G-d, nevertheless even this level of seeing requires the intellect to look beyond the obvious. Anyway eagerly looking forward to reading the next installment. L de Toot.