By Rabbi Aron Tendler
IT'S OUR HOME
In last week's Parsha G-d promised us that we would become a light onto the
nations. "The other nations will know of you and they will proclaim, "What a
wise and understanding nation!" (4:6)
In this week's Parsha we were exhorted by Moshe to remove all traces of
idolatrous practices from Eretz Yisroel, "for it is an abomination of G-d,
your G-d." (7:25-26)
Moshe's concerns were not just for idolatry. His fears were for the
potential assimilation of non-Torah values and practices into the beliefs and
actions of the Jews. As we will see throughout Divarim (Deuteronomy), Moshe
forewarned the Bnai Yisroel against the sins of Avodah Zarah (idolatry) and
intermarriage more so than any other sins. Clearly, Moshe's focus against
idolatry and intermarriage encompassed more than those individual
transgressions. The Torah used the sins of idolatry and intermarriage as
indicators of the nation's severe defection away from the commandments of G-d
and their assimilation into society.
If we compare last week's and this week's Parshios, we seem to have been
given two seemingly contradictory and therefore impossible missions. One
mission was to influence the world at large and be a "light onto the
nations." The other mission was to protect us from the negative influences
On the one hand, our job of influencing the world demands that we become role
models to the rest of humanity. In order to do so, we must understand their
values and issues and help them comprehend how to integrate an active
awareness of G-d into their daily lives. This requires that we understand
them and that they trust us. To accomplish both, we must be in close contact
with the non-Jewish, non-Torah world. On the other hand, our contact with
society must be limited and circumscribed; otherwise, we are in danger of
assimilating society's values rather than they integrating ours.
On the one hand, we must be a part of society; and on the other hand, we must
be apart from society. How can we balance the two?
Furthermore, as a nation we are supposed to be living in Eretz Yisroel, not
among the nations. Our symbiotic relationship with the land was the promise
to our forefathers and the means for accomplishing our mission as the Chosen
People. Nowhere in the Torah do we find G-d suggesting that we open a
worldwide network that would place Jews in every corner of the world to
influence and teach the non-Jewish world. In fact, the very opposite is
true. Every single Jew was intended to live in Eretz Yisroel and focus his
energies on living a life of Torah and Chesed (kindness).
The manner of our being a "light onto the nations" seems from last week's
Parsha to be more by osmosis than anything else. "You shall safeguard and
perform them, (the Mitzvos) for it is your wisdom and understanding in the
eyes of the nations…' The Torah then states, "They shall hear all these
decrees and shall proclaim, "Surely a wise and discerning people is this
great nation." How were we supposed to earn their trust and influence their
souls if we were to remain isolated from the other nations and protected from
their non-Torah values?
Furthermore, imagine what our pluralistically oriented, politically correct,
Jewish and non-Jewish world would think about the verses in this week's
Parsha? "…Until the survivors and the hidden ones perish before you." (7:20)
"…Will confound them with great confusion, until their destruction." (7:23)
"…Cause their name to perish from under the heaven." (7:24) "…You will drive
them out and cause them to perish quickly…" (9:3) How many sanctions would
the UN have placed on the Bnai Yisroel in the aftermath of our campaign to
occupy Eretz Yisroel?
How do each of us feel about G-d's seemingly merciless and racist
commandments? Can we explain them? Can we justify them? In the aftermath
of such a campaign, could we ever regain the world's trust and help them
believe in a loving and judicious G-d, "…Who does not show favor and Who
does not accept a bribe…and loves the proselyte to give him bread…?"
The key to understanding our obligations as teachers of G-d and truth and the
most effective way for doing so is expressed in verse 7:26. "And you shall
not bring an abomination into your home…you shall surely loathe it and you
shall surely abominate it, for it is banned."
Eretz Yisroel is described as our "home." A home is not a place of pluralism
or democracy. A home should not offer alternate values or life styles. A
home should be a haven of security and clarity - secure from physical or
emotional harm and clear in its values and expectations.
For example. Home safety is an obligation as well as an industry. Today you
can hire safety consultants who will do everything from installing the latest
in home security and surveillance to baby proofing. Homes have become smoke
free environments and weapons, medicines, and house hold cleaners are locked
away. Earthquake preparedness has the finest furniture bolted to walls, and
smoke detectors should be standard in each room.
Imagine the guest who visits your safe and secure home and disregards your
concern for second hand smoke. Imagine the guest who visits your safe and
secure home and decides that your coffee table is the best place to leave his
loaded gun or freshly honed combat knife. Imagine the guest who visits your
home and expresses his opinions in front of your impressionable children with
a liberal sprinkling of foul language, disregarding your having asked that he
not do so.
Imagine the guest who visits your home and, without your permission and in
clear disregard for your values and concerns, pops in a video whose rating
and content is morally offensive. Imagine the guest who joins your family for
Shabbos and insists on eating without a kipah or behaving in a manner that
intentionally disregards your concerns for the sanctity of the home and the
In each of the above vignettes, what should you do?
Let me add insult to injury.
Imagine that you confronted your guest and tactfully, but with strength and
personal dignity, let him know how offensive, insensitive, and disrespectful
his behavior had been. Imagine that with righteous indignation he justified
himself using the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the good old American
way? What then should you do?
I don't know what we would do in each of those instances, but we should ask
him to leave; or at the very least, never invite him back into our home. Our
homes are intended to have the greatest influence over our families, and
their influence is more through osmosis than any other medium. As the old
adage says, "Do as I do, not as I say."
Aryeh Kaplan explains in numerous essays that the influence of the Jew was
supposed to emanate and radiate from Eretz Yisroel. The Jew was not supposed
to go out to the world. The world was supposed to come to us. That is why
Eretz Yisroel is strategically placed at the single juncture of three
continents. Over the course of time, merchants, adventurers, and armies
would have to make their way through Eretz Yisroel and visit our home. The
Chosen People, following the example of Avraham and Sarah, would have opened
their homes and invited the many visitors to experience a life style that
integrated an awareness of G-d and a responsibility for all humanity. Like a
guest who visits our homes, they would be enveloped in our lifestyle and
values. They would then proclaim, "Surely a wise and discerning people is
this great nation."
Unfortunately, because we did not use Eretz Yisroel as intended, G-d exiled
us from our home and cast us to the four-corners of the earth. Instead of
the world coming to us, we were forced to go to them.
If Eretz Yisroel is our home, and our home is intended to be the greatest
source of influence, then our homes must be free of any negative or
conflicting influences. "And you shall not bring an abomination into your
home…you shall surely loathe it and you shall surely abominate it, for it is
Eretz Yisroel was not intended to be a pluralistic smorgasbord of ideologies,
theologies, and religions. Eretz Yisroel was intended to be our home. As
such, it should be a place of security and clarity of values.
Our mandate to be "a light onto the nations" can be accomplished by relating
to the non-Jewish and Torah world within the protective walls of our own
home. Good hosts spend time with their guests listening and learning all
they can about them. Through listening and learning, we can gain their trust
and offer them our compassion and wisdom. At the same time, our contact is
controlled and circumscribed within the secure environment of our own homes.
It is quite amazing that the greatest challenges facing Eretz Yisroel today
are issues of national security and the clarification of our identity and
divine values. As Moshe prophetically forewarned more than 3,000 years ago,
beware of idolatry and intermarriage, beware of assimilation.
Copyright © 1999 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.