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S.A.L.T. - Thursday

Rav David Silverberg

In loving memory of
Yitzchak ben Chaim Zvi Schwartz,
who passed away on 13 Shvat 5771
and Sheva Shayndel bat David Schwartz,
who passed away 13 Shvat 5778
by Avraham and Sarah Schwartz

          The Torah in Parashat Yitro tells of God’s revelation to Benei Yisrael at Mount Sinai and His pronouncement of the Ten Commandments, the second of which is the prohibition against making or worshipping idols: “Do not make for yourself a statue, any image [of something] that is in the heavens above, or in the ground below…” (20:3).

          Rav Yisrael of Modzitz, in Divrei Yisrael, finds in this command an allusion to false displays of piety.  Just as the Torah forbids making graven images depicting either celestial bodies or objects found here on earth, and regarding them as deities, likewise, we must avoid dishonestly depicting ourselves as “heavenly,” as someone greater than we really are, and exhibiting false humility, as though we regard ourselves as lowly and insignificant.  We are forbidden from creating false gods representing either the heavens or the earth – and we are similarly warned not to create a false image of ourselves, either as a “heavenly” person, or as an exceptionally “earthly” and lowly being.

          The Divrei Yisrael here draws a comparison between an article of pagan worship and a false image of piety, both of which are presented as something which they aren’t.  An idol is erected to appear as a supernatural being, drawing people to prostrate before it, and a false pious image is projected in order to attract undeserved attention and esteem.  When we present ourselves as more devout than we really are, we in a sense fashion an “idol,” calling upon people to shower us with honor which we do not deserve.  This analogy reminds us of just how sinister false piety is, that when we project such an image, we are no less foolish than somebody fashioning an idol and expecting people to worship it.  By intentionally appearing more righteous than we are, we are calling upon those around us to “worship an idol,” to ascribe greatness to a phony depiction of greatness.  The comparison drawn between false piety and pagan statues should motivate us to focus our efforts on being noble and accomplished people, rather than on appearing as noble and accomplished.  We are to work towards achieving greatness, and not toward earning admiration by giving a fake impression of greatness, like a statue which looks impressive but is, in truth, utterly worthless.



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