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Greater than all Other Gods

the.guard Sunday, 26 February 2017

In Parshas Yisro, the Father in Law of Moshe Rabbeinu, having heard all the great miracles that G-d did for the Jewish people, comes to meet Moshe in the dessert and exclaims:

וַיִּחַדְּ יִתְרוֹ... וַיֹּאמֶר... עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-גָדוֹל ה' מִכָּל-הָאֱלֹהִים, כִּי בַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם

And Yisro rejoiced… and he said… Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods; for that which they had done (to the Jews) was done to them. (They had thrown the Jewish baby boys into the Nile, and G-d punished them by drowning them in the Yam Suf).

1) What kind of praise is it that Hashem is greater than all other Gods? After all, there are no other Gods!

2) Why did Yisro chooses specifically the fact that “what they did, was done to them” as the clincher that G-d is greater than all other gods? Wasn’t the fact that the waters split and even greater miracle to prove that G-d is greater than all other gods?

The Beis Aharon of Karlin (Parshas Bo) says that the word Elokim is made up of two words: אלה – meaning “These” and מי – meaning “Who?”, as the pasuk says: שאו מרום עיניכם וראו מי ברא אלה -Lift your eyes on high and see WHO created THESE. The word מי - “WHO?” denotes a lack of comprehension, while the word אלה denotes something we can point to and comprehend, “These!”

The word Elokim also has the same Gematria as הטבע – meaning ‘Nature’. Nature is simply a manifestation of G-d’s work, and not in any way separate from Him.

Pharaoh asked Moshe: מי ה' אשר אשמע בקולו? – WHO is Hashem that I should listen to His voice? Hashem responded later by saying למען שיתי אותותי אלה בקרבו – So that I may place THESE signs/miracles in his midst (i.e. that he should recognize Who is the real G-d). These two words, “WHO” and “THESE” combine to make the word Elokim, signifying that G-d is the One behind all of creation.

(Until here is from the Beis Aharon)

In nature, it always seems that one thing creates/provides for another. Gravity brings clouds of dust together to create stars and planets, thermo-nuclear reactions in the core of stars cause them to ignite and provide energy, and the sun’s energy allows life to flourish on Earth. The seas bring forth life, the earth brings forth plants, the rivers provide life-giving waters, the rain spreads its bounty over all living things, etc. There are so many forces in the universe that seem to be the ‘cause’ and providers for life on Earth.

So WHO created all THESE? If you ask a scientist, he will describe to you how the Big Bang led to the creation of the universe, and how star dust ultimately turned into humans over billions of years. Indeed, there always seems to be something ELSE that created the thing before it.

Perhaps these are the ‘Gods’ that the nations believed in, i.e. the forces of nature that CREATE and bring forth life. These forces of the universe, the stars and the sun, the seas and the rain, all these phenomenon were worshiped because they seemingly are ‘creators’ and ‘providers’ of life.

The Pasuk in Devarim says:

וּפֶן-תִּשָּׂא עֵינֶיךָ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה, וְרָאִיתָ אֶת-הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְאֶת-הַיָּרֵחַ וְאֶת-הַכּוֹכָבִים כֹּל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנִדַּחְתָּ וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לָהֶם, וַעֲבַדְתָּם--אֲשֶׁר חָלַק ה אֱלֹהקיךָ, אֹתָם, לְכֹל הָעַמִּים, תַּחַת כָּל-הַשָּׁמָיִם.

And lest you lift up your eyes unto heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy G-d has allotted unto all the peoples under the whole heaven.

It seems strange that the Torah claims G-d has “allotted” other gods to the nations of the world. What can this mean, are there really other gods?

Once again, we see that the forces of nature that Hashem created are considered Elohim, to some extent, since they too are a ‘Who’ that created ‘These’, in other words, a force that brings forth and provides…

Our sages tell us that each nation was allotted an Angel that is in charge of providing and giving ‘life-force’ to that nation. This angel is also known as “Elohim”, as Yaakov told Eisav about having met (and fought with) his angel the night before:

כִּי עַל-כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ, כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים--וַתִּרְצֵנִי.

Forasmuch as I have seen thy face, as one sees the face of God, and thou was pleased with me.

However, when it comes to the Jewish people, G-d Himself is the direct provider and giver of the ‘life-force’. He did not allot any force or angel to oversee His own people. As the Pasuk says in Devarim:

כִּי חֵלֶק ה', עַמּוֹ: יַעֲקֹב, חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ.

For the portion of the LORD is His people, Jacob the lot of His inheritance.

It’s interesting to note how the Pasuk uses the say word, ‘Chelek’, to denote how we are His portion, as was used above when describing how the other gods were ‘allotted’ to the other nations:

אֲשֶׁר חָלַק ה אֱלֹהקיךָ, אֹתָם, לְכֹל הָעַמִּים

Which the LORD thy G-d has allotted unto all the peoples...

Yisro proclaimed that G-d is “greater than all other Elohim”. Yes there are other “whos” that create “these”, but G-d was the cause of it all, He started the process. Only G-d is the true WHO that created all THESE. And not only did he START the process, He created nature itself with the incredible ability to create and evolve, provide, each piece of the puzzle playing an important role, each creature being part of the food chain for others. הטבע equals Elokim. He is the very nature that has in it the many forces and phenomenon that have the ability to create and provide.

There are 10 instances in Parshas Bereishis where it says “And G-d said there should be…” Our sages say that G-d created the world through these 10 mamarim or sayings. Even though G-d created the world from the outset with the inherent ability to create and ‘bring forth’ life on its own, perhaps these 10 sayings are 10 times that G-d “intervened” directly in nature to influence the direction of creation and bring about a new stage in his plan that would ultimately bring forth man.

The Beis Aharon says that just as there was the physical creation of the world in the beginning of time, the Exodus from Egypt was the spiritual creation of the world. The 10 plagues paralleled the 10 maamarim of the physical creation. Each of the plagues showed how G-d controls, creates, provides and intervenes in every aspect of nature (having affected the Nile, the animal kingdom, diseases, weather, light and darkness, and even life itself with the death of the first-borns). This was a spiritual 'creation' of the world where G-d was shown to be the ONE force behind ALL other forces and gods. As it says: ובאלוהי מצריים אעשה שפטים, אני ה' – and in all the gods of Egypt I shall make judgments, I am G-d. By revealing that I am the force behind ALL forces, I have stuck down the illusion of all the other god-forces of Egypt!

So why did Yisro use the mida kineged mida of "what they did was done to then" as the greatest proof? For if Yisro had simply proclaimed that G-d was the greatest because he was able to split the Yam Suf, idol worshipers could have responded that it was the god of the Yam Suf that had split the Yam Suf! But when Yisro saw how they were drowned in precise midah kineged mida for what they had done, he was able to point and finally say WHO created all THESE? There is clearly only One G-d Who created and controls everything! The Egyptians worshiped the Nile River because it provided them with life-giving waters in an arid-climate. If the Nile River and the Yam Suf were both independent god forces that were separate than the Almighty, then the amazingly precise punishment meted out to the Egyptians would have no rhyme or reason! But when we see how the Yam Suf, many miles away from the Nile, conspired to mete out judgment to the Egyptians for their sins in the Nile river, then there must be One G-d who created and controls it ALL. ONE force clearly created all OTHER creators and providers!

The words “ויחד יתרו" that the Pasuk uses, meaning ‘Yisro rejoiced’, also comes from the word ‘Echad’ - as in ‘Yisro UNIFIED’ G-d, by realizing that all other forces are really just creations of the One and ONLY true G-d.

Why do the words ‘rejoiced’ and ‘unified’ share the same root?

When a person believes in many gods, then the problems of life all seem to come from many forces. The lack of rain is because the rain god is angry, and the problems with the wife are because the god of love is conspiring against you, and the lack of income is because the god of sustenance is upset, etc. But when a person recognizes that all the forces of the world, both the good and the bad, all come from one just and loving G-d, who sees to it that everyone gets what’s coming to them (like what happened with the Egyptians), it brings a person to true joy! When we realize that even the 'perceived' bad is really from the ONE loving G-d who has only ONE goal, to bestow good on His creations, then we can be sure that what feels hard and painful is really only for our benefit. This knowledge is the key to achieving true joy and inner peace.

When we are pulled to look at things we shouldn’t or towards forbidden desires, what is really happening deep down in our hearts is that we are believing in other gods (or godessess?) who we think can provide our needs OTHER than Hashem.

The Zohar states that when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai would pass by beautiful women with his students, he would urge them to avert their eyes and would recite the Pasuk “אל תפנו אל האלילים – do not turn to other gods.” When we look where we shouldn’t, in our subconscious minds we are denying that Hashem is the ONLY provider or our needs, and we are giving strength in our minds to those ‘goddesses’ out there, who we perceive as beings who can ‘provide our needs’. This is the root of all idol worship, the idea that some other force or being in nature is a provider that is separate from G-d.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing that there are indeed other forces and providers in nature. We find this many times in the Torah as described above (Yisro exclaimed that G-d is greater than all other gods, and Yaakov called Eisav’s angel a god, and G-d Himself declares he has allotted the other gods to the nations, etc.). The problem begins however, when we perceive these forces as separate from G-d Almighty. It takes Emunah to internalize that all forces and providers are only creations of G-d, and it is HE Who provides all our needs!

The Pasuk at the end of Yisro says:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם--כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם.
לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן, אִתִּי: אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם.

And the LORD said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you.

How many of us are guilty of making money (silver and gold) into a god? We run after it and worship it as if ithe 'money' provides our needs. But all the money of the world is G-d's, as the the Pasuk in Chagai (2:8) says: לי הכסף ולי הזהב. It is G-d who created all the forces and effects that seem to provide and create...

So if G-d exhorts us to stay away from forbidden pleasures, then how can we give strength in our minds to these mere creations, if the One who created them and truly provides for all tells us it isn’t good for us! Believing that there is “good” to be had from a “provider” that is OTHER than Hashem is a form of idol worship.

As we explained above, the Parsha of Yisro begins with the most basic prerequisite to the giving of the Torah - beleif in one, all powerful G-d. Yisro, who our sages tell us had served every idol that there was, had come to the conclusive realization that there was only ONE G-d Who controls everything.

This was also the main purpose of the great miracles of the Exodus, to bring all of the Jewish people to a tremendous level of Emunah. Because without the basic belief in One G-d, there can be no Torah.

But it’s interesting that after the awesome giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the Parsha winds down with Hashem saying: “You have seen that I have spoken to you from the heaven, etc.. And then the last sentence of the Parsha seems very anticlimatic:

וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת, עַל-מִזְבְּחִי: אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ, עָלָיו.

Do not go up by steps unto my alter, that your nakedness not be uncovered on it.

What secrets are hidden in this Pasuk, that G-d found it so important to end the powerful story of Kabalas Hatorah with this idea?

Don’t go up on mizbeach bi’maalos – gaivah. What is the secret here?

First know there’s only one god and serve Him. But then, don’t let personal ego/god in the way. That’s a darga that only Torah can bring us to. If we have gaivah, we push god away. Gasei ruach, sofo linof. I am the controller of my destiny, also form of idolatry. I take what I want. This is root of niuf. Mizbeach means sacrifice our desires, how? By not going up in gaivah. And ikkar sacrifice, is lo sigaleh ervascha alav.

What really is erva? In Vayikra 20:18 it says:

אֶת-מְקֹרָהּ הֶעֱרָה

“Her Fountain he has made naked”.

Rashi explains that the word he’era means:

גלה, וכן כל לשון ערוה גלוי הוא

“Revealed, and so does all instances of the word “Erva” mean ‘to reveal’.

Why should it be hidden? And why were Adam and Chava ‘ashamed’ that they were naked after the sin and try to ‘hide’ and cover themselves?

The Yetzer Hara is simply the desire to receive, which separates us from Hashem who only wants to give. The shame of nahama dechisufa, is the purpose of all the torah and mitzvos (to understand this better, see secret of happiness). Before the sin of Adam, the yetzer hara wasn’t inside him. There wasn’t any shame. But once he sinned, his ‘desire to receive’ became part of him and he felt that shame of nahama dechisufa, his desire to receive was exposed and in direct contrast to that of G-d, making him feel distant and separate from G-d. This is the root of all shame, the revelation of our desire to receive.

I have a 4.5 year old son, Motti, who was blessed b”h with a refined nature. Under him, is a 2.5 year old son named, Elimelech. I noticed that whenever Motti wants to ask me for something like a treat, or to play a game on the computer, he comes and tells me that “Elimelech” wants a treat or wants to play on the computer. Why doesn’t he just tell me that he wants to? It is human nature from the earliest age, to be ashamed of ‘revealing’ our desirs. We try to disguise it in any way possible rather than admit that we want something.

That is why there is so much shame around sexuality. Because this is an area where our ‘desire to receive’ is expressed in its strongest form. That is why Adam and Chava felt shame that they were naked when their desire to receive was internalized.

The root of tznius is keeping our desire to receive, or others desiring us, hidden. When we ‘show off’ we are revealing our desire for ‘honor’ to the whole world. And when a woman covers her body and tries not to dress provocatively, she is keeping her desires for intimacy – and the desires of the men around her – in check and in hiding. She is acknowledging the shame in ‘flouting’ our desires to the world, that which makes us separate from G-d.

Do not go up on my Mizbeach with steps, with ego. When sacrificing our desires to become one with G-d, we must hide and subjugate our desires. As it says, “For all yeast and honey thou shall not burn from it an ‘isheh’ for G-d”. Yeast symbolizes ego, and honey symbolizes the sweetness of desires. And then the Pasuk in this week’s parsha ends, ‘that you shall not reveal your nakedness on it’. Meaning, that when your desires are not subjugated and revealed, this separates you from G-d.

So before the receiving of the Torah, we had to recognize that there is only one G-d who controls everything. But AFTER the receiving of the Torah, our job is much greater than that. We are now expected to unify G-d in all our actions, in other words, everything we do should be for G-d's sake. Only through the Torah can one reach such a high level, and it is hinted to in this final verse of Parshas Yisro: Do not go up on my alter with steps and ego. Do not let your nakedness - your 'personal desires' become revealed. Sacrifice your ego and desires for G-d on my Alter. This is the ultimate unification of G-d's name, and so the story of Kabalas Hatorah ends with these divine instructions.

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