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08/21/2020 11:54:37 AM


Rabbi Barry Gelman

A Pinch of This and a Dash of That...Ingredients For The Perfect Community.

08/21/2020 09:38:43 AM

Rabbi Barry Gelman

 וְלֹֽא־תָקִ֥ים לְךָ֖ מַצֵּבָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׂנֵ֖א יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃

Do not erect a stone pillar; for such the LORD your God detests.

Why does God hate a מַצֵּבָה - a stone pillar?

A number of commentators on the Torah explain this by comparing the usage and physical structure of a stone pillar to an altar. 

According to the Netziv, God hates the pillar because while an altar is used to offer sacrifices to God,  a pillar was often turned into an item to be worshipped itself. 

Rashi (12:3) explains the difference between a stone altar (Mizbeach) and a pillar. He notes that an altar is made of many stones while a Matzeivah - a stone pillar is made of one stone. 

Based on the explanation the Shem Mishmuel offers a beautiful explanation of our verse. A stone pillar - made of one stone - symbolizes a person coming to God in a selfish, radically individualistic way. Their prayer to GOd comes only from their heart, based on their needs. And as the Shem Mishmuel says: “ דפרט לא יוכל בשום אופן לגשת אל ה' יתברך” - an individual in no way can ever approach God”.

An alter offers a completely different message. On the one hand, an alter, made up of many stones, expresses that the offering and associated prayers comes from a person who considers themselves part of the community - the Klal. On the other hand, the fact that the stones are gathered to create a single structure points to the importance of the individual bringing the offering. While we are all created from the same source, we are all unique individuals with different and valued opinions, ideas and contributions to make. Just as the Shem Mishmuel noted the weakness inherent of a person’s offering who is separated from the community, he also notes:  “אי אפשר לגשת אל עבודתו רק כלל לא פרט - it is impossible to approach God only as part of the group, without focus on the individual .”

This is really a beautiful idea as it encompasses what a community is all about. The strength of a community is in all of the individuals bringing their unique abilities, interests, strengths and ideas to the communal table. It reminds us that a community is really built on its ability to absorb many approaches and outlooks.

The ingredients necessary to build a strong community are when individuals seek to contribute their uniqueness to the community and the community is open to embracing the distinct voices of those individuals.

Tue, May 18 2021 7 Sivan 5781