|The Voice of Torah: Re'ei: Total Connection|
|Written by Rabbi Chaim Goldberger|
No nation was as steeped in avodah zarah as the nation of Canaan. [Yalkut Shimoni] The Land of Israel is regularly referred to as the Land of Canaan. This designation is curious, given that the land had never been the
rightful possession of Canaan even prior to Israel’s conquest. And why was the nation of Canaan so much more connected to avodah zarah than, say, Egypt? Egypt worshipped idols, of course, but what they were “steeped in” was lust and licentiousness more than avodah zarah. In general, what are we to make of the fact that the Land of Israel spent so much time davka in the hands of a nation as addicted to idolatry as the Canaanites? What does that say about the land and what does it say about us that we should be inheriting such a land? What lesson must we learn about our entry into and possession of Eretz Yisrael?
Additionally, the Torah gives us a surprising admonition:
“For their altars you shall tear down, their pillars you shall break, their idolatrous trees you shall destroy, and their idols you shall burn in fire.”
“Do not do these things to Hashem your God.”
A warning is only necessary when one would otherwise contemplate such an action. One who is actively destroying idols is engaged in an act of supreme loyalty to God. Why would such a person even be thinking about destroying God’s altars that he has to be warned not to do so?
In order to answer these questions, we need to consider another one. Why must the idols of the Canaanites be utterly destroyed? Let us just ignore them! It would seem simple enough – we believe in the real God; we know these idols are powerless; the religions of the indigenous nations are based on superstition and fancy. Why can’t we just make ourselves oblivious to the remnants of these idolatrous practices and treat them as the zero that they are?
Let’s go back to the question about Egypt. Their primary perversion was lust, not idolatry. We asked why. To answer, we need to point out that the Egyptians had one thing the Canaanites lacked – guaranteed prosperity. If you lived in Egypt, you relied on the annual flooding of the Nile. It watered all the land and assured its fertility – and the overflow occurred annually without fail. No one in Egypt had to utter a prayer – to any god – in order to secure his livelihood. The land of Canaan, on the other hand, depended on rainfall. In order to survive there, one had to rely on forces outside of oneself.
In other words, one could be a secular Egyptian. One could not be secular and live in the Land of Canaan.
Canaan’s dependency is by design. The need for God’s favor compels the development of a close relationship between the inhabitants of the land and the God whose providence hovers over it. But when that design is corrupted, it will not be by individuals choosing secularism over devotion to God, it will be by idolatry. The nation of Canaan is most addicted to idolatry because they are living in a land most in need of one’s attachment to God. Our national obligation upon entry into Eretz Yisrael is to obliterate, not ignore, the idolatrous shrines. This is because in Eretz Yisrael, ignoring the pull toward worship is not an option. Since a weakening, God forbid, of our commitment to God would necessarily translate into a turn toward idols, we have to make absolute certain in advance that no remnants of idols will be available at that point to be found.
This tells us an enormous amount about Eretz Yisrael today. Despite any protestations to the contrary, one can be a secular American Jew, but one cannot be a secular Israeli. Life is too precarious – whether due to the vicissitudes of water, the weather, or our enemies. Classic avodah zarah is the result of a need to rely on something outside of oneself for basic necessities. Scratch the surface of a non-religious Israeli and you will find either a maamin ba’Hashem or a soul attached to some alternative ideal (military prowess, peace, environmentalism, etc.) with religious fervor. This is the nature of living in Eretz Yisrael/Eretz Canaan.
Now we can answer our other question. One seeking to relax his commitment to Torah might agree that being secular in Eretz Yisrael is not an option, but he might seek to worship both God and idols! To such a person the Torah is addressing its admonition. “Do not do to Hashem your God what you are being commanded to do to idols – You who think you can circumvent your feelings of insecurity by committing to an idol as well as to God, be aware that the two are in irreconcilable conflict, and that even if you are willing to knock down some idols, the failure to eradicate idolatry in total will inevitably have you destroying God’s altars, even if you believe it could never happen.”
The only proper response to the natural need for reassurance and security that springs from the nature of the Land of Israel – a land that generates a need so strong that it brought its earlier occupants to the depths of avodah zarah – is supreme faith in the land’s divine Master, along with total obliteration of any sign that supports reliance on anything else.