Shoftim: Many Stones

Each individual Jew can become part of the whole.

Aloh Naaleh,

Arutz 7

"Neither shall you set up for yourself a matzevah [a single standing stone] which the Lord your God, despises." (Deuteronomy 16:22)

"Even though this form of worship was beloved in the days of the forefathers, you have been commanded to build an altar [mizbeach] of stones and an earthen altar." (Rashi on the above verse)

Rashi explains that once the practice of worship with a single standing stone (matzevah) was taken over by idol worshipers, it became unfit for use by Israel even in the service of the one God. An additional explanation is offered by Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch. He points out that changing attitudes towards a matzevah versus a mizbeach may have been a function of the historical period involved.

Clearly, the era of the avot constitutes the formative period of the nation of Israel, the inspired story of the development of the larger-than-life individuals who were our biological forbears. And their composite personalities, the result of the many trials and challenges they experienced, represented the potential of every Jew since. In their day, the overall goal was to develop the individual personality in terms of its relationship within the family, as well as its relations with outsiders and, above all, with God. Therefore, to worship God by bringing libations on a single standing stone was deemed quite appropriate, as it symbolized the goal of that period - to develop the single perfected individual who stands in humble and obedient service to God.

After the Exodus, however, when B'nai Yisroel had developed into a nation, the appropriate platform for offerings to God became the mizbeach, an altar made of many stones. No longer is the perfection of the individual the highest goal, but rather the development of the collective, the nation, the amalgam of different personalities subordinating
No longer is the perfection of the individual the highest goal.
their individual interest for the common good, orchestrating their different talents to serve the needs of the people. This is graphically symbolized by the mizbeach, whose basic structure depends entirely upon the cooperation of the individual components.

There is an important lesson here particularly for those of us still living in the Diaspora, where one's highest goal as a Jew seems to be the production of the most learned and pious individual possible. The end goal of all of the many institutions we build and maintain in the Diaspora is precisely that, and that alone, for these collectives, as such, are partial and temporary. After 60 years of the restored Jewish State in Eretz Yisroel, it should be clear that the matzevah, the single great stone, no longer represents Judaism's highest goal. Rather, the challenge of our time is to build a sovereign Jewish collective that could truly be a "light to the nations." The only appropriate form of worship today is the mizbeach, for each individual Jew to become part of the great miracle unfolding in our day.

You wish your son to become the next godol hador? By all means. But do it within the context of the new Jewish reality, while living in Israel.
Rabbi Shubert Spero writes from Jerusalem.

The foregoing commentary was distributed by the Aloh Naaleh organization.