Parsha Mitzvot-Eikev-Mitzvot 434-435-Concepts 54-55-Idols & Coverings
Transcribed and unedited: The two mitzvoth are l’lo tavi to’eivah el beitecha, that you should not bring an abomination into your house, and number fifty five is that you should not desire any of the gold or silver that is used to cover over idols.
In other words, let us say there is a stone, so a stone by nature can never really become prohibited, because it is a natural part of the world, it was not made for the idol, like the tree could be planted for an idol, say they would cover the stone with the gold or silver and then the gold or silver covering would become prohibited, not the stone itself.
Now I think the obvious lesson that you learn out of this one is that you have to be careful about what you bring into your house.
I have an eight year old son who got into a major fight at school because he did not know what playboy was. And you know all the kids were making fun of him, he did not appreciate being made fun of and finally one of the kids brought a playboy to school, an eight year old kid brought a playboy to school to show my son, my sweet innocent perfect child what a playboy was. And then they started telling him about how it was on cable and they told him which channel to watch and he turned on our tv and cable and tried to get that channel not knowing that it has been locked out, and it is unbelievable, we were just wondering, these kids watch playboy and they are eight years old.
But you see, it is unbelievable how careful you have to be with what you bring into your house, you never know.
I remember that once when I was a little boy I was in my father’s study and he always used to hide his cigarettes and I would look for them and steal them, so one time I found a whole stack of paperback books that looked really, you know, you know what I mean, and it turned out he had just confiscated them from kids in the yeshiva, but, convince me of that. I had it, right, I could not bring the subject up because then he would know that I was stealing his cigarettes which he must have known anyway and I did not even know which side to put into my mouth, but, here you have to be so careful with what you bring into your house, no matter what it is for. And how far do you have to go to protect your environment.
So the Rambam says as follows. If you have a decoration that was made simply for the beauty of it and it was not made to serve it then there is no problem in having it in your house, so if you would have Van Gogh’s starry night, there would be no problem, for other reasons, you know it is not three dimensional, but there would never be a problem of Van Gogh’s starry night unless it had been worshipped.
Now this changes in a little bit from, obviously this halacha is taken in the midst of beyond protecting your environment and it is telling you that what you do with something changes the nature of it, so whereas the picture itself is neutral, which is a theme that has come up again and again in the laws of idol worship, but once you have done something destructive with it, it changes its nature and you should not have it in your house, now what this means, obviously, will my children be affected by the fact that starry night is here and one day you know, is bowing down to starry night, it is not going to affect my kids, at least not on a physical level or a conscious level, and what this halacha is saying is that the torah believes that the way something is used can change you, can change its affect on you and its influence on you, even if you are not aware of the way it was used, it is a powerful idea.
You have to be careful with what you do. You know when in yeshiva in Miami, it was right across the street from Riverside Chapel, there is a Riverside in every city, Riverside memorial funeral chapel. A famous mobster’s stepson was machine gunned to death and they asked the boys from yeshiva to do a teharah even though there is not much of a taharah you can do to someone who has been machine gunned to death the day before testifying in court. But we did what we could and when we came out he handed us an envelope, the mobster handed us an envelope to give to the rosh yeshiva and it was a substantial check. And our Rosh Yeshiva refused to take it, because he said I am not going to build my yeshiva on this kind of money, who knows where it came from, so he did not take it, of course no ones salary had been paid in six months, but he was righteous. So that is the Rambam.
So the Rambam says that you have to be careful with the sources of things and that is why we are going to find other mitzvoth in the Torah, for instance any money that was once used to pay a prostitute or an animal that was used to pay for the services of a prostitute, can never be used in the beit hamikdash. If you ever exchanged a sheep for a dog then that sheep can never be used as a sacrifice. The nature of things change by the way you use them, which is an interesting idea.
The Chinuch, he says like this, that why is it that you would not be allowed to bring such things into your houses, especially if you are not going to be using them for the evil purposes, you are going to be, you will be having it in your house for good purposes.
So the Chinuch says like this, that it is very important for a person to be aware that the money that a person has or the possessions that we have, are given to us by G-d. And when you begin to bring in other possessions that have been stolen or robbed or have been used in destructive ways, then you are taking that which is in essence holy, because it was given to you by G-d, and you are combining it, or piling it up, or confusing it rather with things that really in essence are no longer good because of the evil they have been used for, and it is important that for a person who wants to be constantly aware and conscious of the fact that this persons possessions come from G-d, that there should be a certain sense of sanctity about them, you lose it when you bring other types of things into your house.
The Sforno gives an interesting explanation for this mitzvah, and the sforno says that you know what, what will happen, if let us say one day, you find, and you know you go to a museum and they are selling, they are having an auction of pieces that were once used to serve the G-d Ashtarot, right they uncovered a temple of Ashtarot and they find all sorts of little objects that were used in the Temple and they are auctioning it off so that they can buy, I don’t know, the whole temple and move it to the Met. So you buy this object, right you want to have it into your house, so obviously it is a wonderful thing, you bring it into your house and then you buy a lottery ticket the next day and two weeks later you win the lottery. It is possible you may say, hey, maybe the reason I won the lottery is because I bought that thing, because I bought that thing that had been used in the Temple of Ashtarot, it is possible that you will associate the two. Remember there was a big debate in Los Angeles, there was a man who was evicted from his house, fired from his job, he had thirty days to live his house, his mother went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe gave him a dollar and said this will bring you bracha, his mother sent him the dollar, he used the dollar to buy a lottery ticket and he won forty million dollars in California. So of course it was, you know, the big debate was can you give the Rebbe the credit for it or not. And it turned out that he had not actually used that dollar in the end. But you see how easy it is to begin to credit things that happen with other things that have changed, especially if it is a stroke of luck. So the Sforno says do not bring those things into your house because you never know what you will begin to associate with them, some good fortune.
The Gemara in Sotah give an entirely different, has an entirely different approach to this. It says, listen, do not read this on the nuts and bolts level that you should not bring anything that was once used to worship idols into your house, it is not what it is. Gemara in Sotah says like this, it says you should not bring any abomination into your house, lo tavih to’evah el betecha, well there is a verse in mishlei, in proverbs, that says, to’avat hashem kol gevah lev. That what G-d, the greatest abomination in the eyes of G-d is arrogance.
So that when the verse says, lo tavih to’evah el beitecha, so amar rebbe shimon bar yochai, that kola dam sheyesh bo gasut haruach, any person who has arrogance ki’ilu oveid avodah zarah, it is as if that person has worshipped idols. And that is how we understand what you learn out of this passage. Lo tavih to’evah el beitecha, do not bring any of these abominations into your house. Because it is G-d’s abomination, it means do not be arrogant in your own home.
And the way the Kabbalists is as follows. You will notice that all the prohibitions, all the taryag mitzvoth do not include ethical character. They are not included in the six thirteen commandments. That is because you cannot begin to fulfill the six thirteen commandments if you do not have the proper ethical character. So if you are arrogant, Torah does not matter, it is meaningless. If you are arrogant, your tzedakah does not really matter. If you have a hot temper, then your mitzvoth are ineffective, they do not affect, they do not change you, they do not transform you, you do not really feel their effect. And so these, the middos, precede the fulfillment of the mitzvoth. So when it says arrogance is considered the worst of all the middos, the worst of all the middot, the personal characteristics that you could have. And it is saying do not even bring it into your house because it can destroy you.
The Gemara in avodah zarah says that we learn from this law that ein maskirin batei dirah l’ovdei cochavim b’eretz yisrael, you are not allowed to rent out a house in Israel to an idol worshipper, mipnei she’machnisin l’tocha avodat cochavim, because they bring, people bring idols into your home, and even though you will not be serving it, the idol, but they will be bringing it into your home, you do not want any service of idols in your home. This is a very practical halachic question, because let us say India opens an embassy in Israel and they send a Hindi or someone, a Buddhist, and that person is going to bow down to a statue of Buddha in your house, if you rent your house out to this New Ambassador. May you rent out your house to this person or not? Does it apply to Christians? Well that would depend if Christianity is considered idol worship or not. Does it depend on, can you rent out your house to people who are just disgusting, they will take very good care of your house but they are a drug dealer, can you rent out your house to them or not? It will be paid on time, they promise you no guns or anything like that, no wild parties they just need a place to live and hide. What are you allowed to, you know, to whom are you allowed to rent your house to and to whom not, and this is becoming more and more of a question as Israel develops diplomatic relations with more countries. To whom can you rent out your homes.
So you can tell them the Rambam says that with pure idol worship you cannot do it. Also the Rambam says there is no more pure idol worship in our time.
Just that, I want to tell you something the Kotzker Rebbe says. He says like this, the prohibition against the making of idols includes within itself the prohibition against making idols out of the mitzvoth. We should never imagine that the chief purpose of a mitzvah is its outward form and that its inward meaning should be subordinated. The very opposite is the position we should take, and that anyone who treats a mitzvah only because of its outward form and how it is perceived by other people is considered to be an idol worshipper, just an appropriate thought I think, for our times. This comment was a public service announcement by Lincoln Square Synagogue.