Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Parshat Re’ay

Doing the What Seems Right

Moshe warns the people that once a permanent sanctuary is established: “You shall not do as all the things that we do here this day, every man [doing] what he deems fit” (Devarim 12:12).

In Israel’s early history, communities would have their bamot – high places, where they would offer sacrifices to God. These bamot were considered illegal. Moshe states clearly that “only in the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes; there you shall offer up your burnt offerings” (ibid 14).

Even though the bamot were established to worshipping the true God and not idols, they were considered illegal. Indeed, when the Transjordanian tribes established an altar on the banks of the Jordan, a task force, led by Pinchas the High Priest, was sent to investigate and if necessary attack those tribes for this blasphemy. The attack was called off after the tribes explained that the altar was ceremonial and not functional (See Yehoshua 22:9-34)

Nevertheless, we see that the bamot were tolerated and were at times, even used at the word of God. Shmuel often traveled the country and offered sacrifices in different locales (see I Shmuel 9:25 and 16:2-5), while Eliyahu HaNavi is famed for the altars he built on Mount Carmel (see I Melachim Ch.18). They were finally destroyed only during the reign of Yoshiyahu (II Melachim Ch.23).

The question is why the bamot should be wrong. The temple was a long distance for most of Israel and was not convenient for the daily worship of God. It is logical that each area should have its altar and priests so that the people could worship God daily, in a similar way that Jewish areas today each have a number of synagogues.

This is the logic that ancient Israel used and is presumably the reason that they were tolerated.

Nevertheless, there are problems with “every man [doing] what he deems fit”, i.e. each area or even family building their own local altar, and Israel during the reign of the Judges suffered from it: “In those days (there was) no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his eyes” (Shoftim 17:6).

These bamot often led people astray with the local leader manipulating the authority of the sanctuary to do what was right in his eyes. Examples of this include Gidon (ibid 8:27) and Micha (ibid Ch.17-18).

Both these individuals thought that they were doing the right thing. Micha even saw in the early positive outcome that God was leading him on the correct path: “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, because I had a Levite as my priest” (ibid 17:13).

Nevertheless, as in the case of Gidon, all Israel went astray after it there; and it became a snare to Gideon and to his house (ibid 8:27).

The message is that man should not be making personal calculations to do what I right in his eyes. We often talk ourselves into believing ourselves too much. We should be aiming to do what is right in God’s eyes, not or eyes.

The problem is that it is not always obvious. For that we need a central authority for whom we can consult and help isolate all the smoke clouding our thought process, so that we can come to clear unselfish decisions.
Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Re’ei entiled: " The Place " appears at



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