Re'ei 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Goodness Matters

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


Many of the commandments that are incumbent upon the Jewish people upon their arrival in the land of Israel are mentioned in this week’s portion.

One of these commandments is the obligation to destroy all vestiges of  the previous inhabitants’ idolatry: “You shall break apart their altars, you shall smash their pillars, and their sacred trees shall you burn in the fire. Their carved images you shall cut down, and you shall obliterate their names from that place.” (Deut. Ch.12 V.3).

The concept that the Jewish people shall not worship idols, and instead will believe in G-d alone, is well known to us. Yet, why is it necessary to obliterate all remnants of idolatry?  Would it not be better to put them to use in a different fashion? Furthermore, we know that everything in the Torah is relevant for all time; what is the relevance of this commandment?

In order for us to understand this commandment, we must first understand why idolatry is forbidden. The belief in idolatry represents randomness. That is, nothing has any intrinsic meaning - rather, life is a series of events that can be manipulated for one’s own personal gain. Good and bad have no relevance in the religion of idolatry. Whatever a person can do to improve his lot — even at the expense of others — is his right.

The belief in G-d and the Torah is the complete opposite of this. We believe that goodness does matter.

And when the belief in randomness is taken to its obvious conclusion, then the trait of negativity and cynicism takes hold. And if all of life is one glorified rat race, with no direction, and the winner at the end of the day is the one with the most money, and all facets of good and evil are purely arbitrary, how can this not be the conclusion?

So what G-d is telling us that we do not merely turn our backs on idols and all they represent: lack of meaning, greed, negativity etc.  Rather, we destroy these traits.

In this day and age it is hard not to be cynical and negative, for it feels as if we are constantly being let down. Yet that is not the optimal human condition. G-d wants us to be positive and optimistic. In fact, it says in the Talmud that mockery is permitted only in regards to idolatry.

So let’s destroy the character traits of cynicism and negativity, and be optimistic about improving the world.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the Outreach Director at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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