Shofetim: Monuments & Bubblegum
A constant refrain of my childhood was: “A bubblegum tree will grow in your stomach if you swallow your gum.” It was intended to frighten me out of swallowing my gum, one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I could not imagine that my mother would lie so I began to wonder whether the bubblegum tree would grow out of my nose or my mouth. I carefully thought about the flavor I would next swallow. The problem was that I enjoyed different flavors and colors (There was only one brand: Paskez) and I did not want my unlimited lifetime supply of gum to be limited to one flavor. I could snip off a pack or two that would grow out of my mouth or nose, but I didn’t know whether there was room in my stomach (I was quite skinny at the time) for two bubblegum trees. My mother’s rule became my dilemma. I decided to not risk being committed to a single flavor and chose to not have a tree growing in my stomach. (I also decided not to believe my mother: I had already swallowed countless pieces of gum, and when I carefully examined my stomach I could not find the beginnings of any trees.)
I thought about my bubblegum tree dilemma this morning on my hike around Van Cortland Park. Vast areas have been fertilized and I was wondering: if a gum tree could grow in my stomach, what would happen if I dropped my gum into freshly fertilized earth? I chose not to experiment because I doubt that most people would be happy with the Israeli gum I chew. People would complain to the mayor about his choice of gum trees, riots would ensue and my tree would probably be vandalized. One person’s gum is another person’s nightmare.
No wonder the Torah prohibits us from erecting a Matzeiva – a monument to God. (Deuteronomy 16:22) It was perfectly acceptable for Jacob put a monument up after his dream: he would not be imposing his view, rule, or gum tree, on anyone else. Now, the Torah says, “God despises monuments.” God does not want any of us to impose our views on anyone else. A monument is fixed. It does not allow for a different point of view. One person’s absolute is another’s dilemma or even nightmare.
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