An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
Do not erect a sacred Monolith for this is something that HaShem your L-rd hates -Devarim 16:22
Although HaShem commanded us to make Altars of soil and multiple stones He hates the (single stone) monolith… even though the monolith was beloved by Him during the era of the patriarchs He hates it presently… -Rashi Ibid
Good habits become second nature. As we grow and mature we develop attitudes and approaches that are translated into specific behavioral patterns. Once well established these attitudes and behavioral patterns become very difficult to break. On the rare occasions of inconsistency we are often described as “acting out of character” and most people consider consistency an unquestionable virtue. We associate immutable consistency with being principled, sincere, dependable and serious.
However the Izhbitzer cautions against being too obstinate to ever alter ones attitudes or behaviors. In contemporary post-sacrificial terms this is what the prohibition of “erecting a monolith” means. A monolith is a single pillar or slab of hard inflexible stone. While soil is soft and malleable and the variegated stones of a multiple stone altar are of different shapes, sizes and colors, a monolith is a model of, well, monolithic, monochromatic, monotonous consistency. Even sacred monoliths are hated by HaShem. Even regarding ones manner of relating to and worshiping HaShem the Torah prohibits monolithic, heels-dug-in inflexibility.
In the bygone era of the patriarchs, when HaShems sovereignty was not yet acknowledged by the vast majority of the mankind this kind of obstinacy was beloved by Hashem. At that time the call of the hour was for the Avos and Imahos to dig in their heels, draw lines in the sand and to be moser nefesh-to lay down their lives, for every minute detail of worship of the One True G-d. Whereas for us there are only three cardinal sins for which the Halacha demands death before transgression in all circumstances. It goes without saying that if in given situations we must steer clear of obstinacy and be flexible enough to actually sin then, depending on a variety of variables, we must certainly be responsive and flexible enough to adjust our ways and means of fulfilling Mitzvos and worshiping HaShem.
Understanding that the capacity for inconsistency is required of us in our relationship with Hashem has a tremendously positive impact on our interpersonal relationships as well. If we had the luxury of monolithic inflexibility we’d find it much easier to be dismissive of other people, their Hashkofos and approaches to Avodas HaShem –serving G-d. But since we ourselves must eschew a monolithic style in Avodas Hashem, if we ourselves serve HaShem in a less-than-absolutely-consistent range of ways then we are much better able to tolerate the diverse approaches of our fellow Jews.
While uniform standards govern the actual implementation of the 613 Mitzvahs that are equally binding on each and every Jewish Soul, the Ta’amei HaMitzvos– the rationale and motivation underpinning the Mitzvahs are “tasted” (Ta’am) and experienced by each soul in a unique and inimitable way. This is why the Pasuk (Devarim 6:17) says: “You (plural) should be very careful (Shamor Tish’merun) to keep the commandments of Hashem your L-rd as well as the Edos.. that He commanded you (singular- Tzivcha) . The Edos refer to the Ta’amei HaMitzvos which differ from individual to individual. Hence the second person singular conjugation of the verb “command”. It is imperative for each of us to understand that, in fact, it is impossible for our fellow Jews to observe the Mitzvahs using our unique and inimitable approach and attitude and that to expect their approach to be consistent with ours is not merely being judgmental and dismissive, but completely irrational and foolish.
Adapted from Mei HaShiloach to Devarim 16:22 (D”H Lo Sakum )