SALT - Wednesday, 13 Av 5776 - August 17, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg


            In one of his warnings against idolatry in Parashat Vaetchanan, Moshe says to the people, “Be careful, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you, and make for yourselves an idol, any image, which the Lord your God commanded you” (4:23).

            The final clause of this verse – “which the Lord your God commanded you” – caught the attention of several commentators, who noted the difficulty of this construction.  It seems that this phrase modifies the nouns “idol’ and “any image,” as though these were “commanded” by God.  Of course, the precise opposite is true – God specifically and sternly warns against building statues and idols.  Rashi resolves the difficulty by explaining, very simply, that Moshe means to say, “which the Lord your God commanded against.”  Moshe’s intent is to warn against violating God’s command not to create graven images.  Another approach is taken by Chizkuni, who suggests that the phrase “which the Lord your God commanded you” modifies not the idols which Moshe forbids, but rather the covenant which he mentions earlier in the verse.  Ibn Ezra suggests solving the problem by reading the reading the word “asher” (“which”) as an abbreviated form of the word “ka’asher” (“as”).  According to this reading, Moshe is simply stating that the people should avoid fashioning idols as God had commanded them.

            The Kotzker Rebbe, however, draws upon this unusual formulation to suggest an especially novel – and striking – reading of the verse.  He explains that Moshe warns against creating fake “images” of that which God has commanded us.  An image is not real; it is merely a physical representation of that which it depicts.  In this verse, the Kotzker Rebbe explained, Moshe warns against creating fake replicas of the mitzvot.  If we just go through the motions, or focus exclusively on the externalities of the mitzvot without any sincere emotional component, then we are doing nothing more than creating an “idol of that which the Lord your God has commanded.”  Through this interpretation of the verse, the Kotzker Rebbe admonishes that our avodat Hashem must be genuine and real, not superficial and phony.  We must fulfill our religious obligations with a sincere desire to serve and to connect with the Almighty, and not just for show or as “something to do.”  If our mitzvot are all external, devoid of any inner feeling of devotion, then we are creating “images” of mitzvot, rather than performing actual mitzvot.