A Leg to Stand On
One early morning, while studying Tanya, I looked away from the page before me to ponder its profound teachings. I stared and stared into the cozy glow of the dim light, and behold, a devil was looking back at me! Yes it was a devil, I’m sure of it. There were not one now, but four. I jumped up from my seat to investigate. I was in shock. Why had I never noticed this before? Here in the dining room of my childhood home, my mother’s home, stood a beautiful, ornate, expensive mantelpiece clock which had four devil heads serving as its feet. I was quite certain that this was not permitted in a Jewish home, even for art’s sake. And so I did what I do best. I bothered a very busy, respected rabbi with the likes of questions that only Aliza can ask.
Click to watch Aliza's Torah videos on YouTube... “Dear Rabbi, I have an odd question. Please see attached photo, exhibit A…Is that idol worship? Should I and can I remove just the legs and throw them away or have I created an issue where there is none?” Friends, for 30 years, that clock decorated our home. Neither I nor my mother ever noticed that we had an idol in our midst. I thought of the years we celebrated holidays in that room, the years my father prayed there and donned his tefillin, all the years I studied Torah in that room and then I thought of the devil holding up “time,” i.e., that clock, and I was not pleased. The rabbi replied. My “odd” question indeed had an answer. The faces had to be smoothed down to destroy the semblance of a graven image or alternately, they could be removed altogether. As the Second Commandment states: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in heaven above, that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” G-d’s law is clear, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Judaism teaches, moreover, that idols are not just statues and graven images. Idols are anything that we worship that comes between man and G-d. Materialism, obsession with beauty, fitness, money, the government, politics, the army, physicians, can all be considered idols if we empower them with the belief that it is they who sustain us and not the Will of G-d. In fact, the Sages teach that even anger is tantamount to idol worship. For, in a rage, we bow to the circumstances and lose the clear and cool-headed understanding that everything that happens to us is designed by the Almighty. Arrogance too is likened to idol worship. An inflated ego and self-deification leave no room for anything or anyone else to exist—not even G‑d. Judaism also teaches that there is nothing but Him, ein od milvado. And the more we distance ourselves from Him, the more things we need to fill the ensuing void. So, we become collectors. Those things we collect become our gods instead. As a natural consequence, we then need to show off all the things we’ve collected, to gather praise and honor and proudly vie for others to worship us. By contrast, the closer we get to God and study His words and ways, the less things we need. And the only opinion we come to care about is His. But, due to our ever-constricted awareness of G-d’s Omnipresence, we live fractured and compartmentalized lives. We relegate G-d to the synagogue’s confines, and do not fear Him nor serve Him in the other buildings of our lives. We ignore Him in the courthouse, the bank, the hospital, the boardrooms and our living rooms. Why? Because in those places we bow to our man-made gods. We think that the judge, the lawyer, the broker, the doctor, our lies and manipulations will save us. But friends, they are just the puppets rendered effective or not by the will of G-d alone. We are genuflecting to fleeting shadows in place of the Source. In addition, how often do we really examine our environs and take a good look at what is “decorating” our lives and whether we are surrounded by idols both physically and spiritually? What is coming between you and G-d? Greed? Laziness? Egoism? Jealousy? Hedonism? Apathy? I can’t help but think how even the American dollar, the idol of idols that many revere as a god, is smarter than we are, for even the mighty buck itself declares “In G-d we trust.” In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we learn that two sons of Jacob, Shimon and Levi, took revenge upon the people of Shechem for the rape of their sister by killing every man in the city and plundering the city of its riches, including items of idolatry. Jacob demanded of his household, “Discard the alien gods that are in your midst… And they gave Jacob all the deities of the nations that were in their possession and the earrings that were in their ears, and Jacob buried them.…” (Genesis 35:2-4) Rabbi Norman Lamm, Z’L, describes this as a cathartic and important episode worthy of replicating in our own lives. Imagine we too stand before a huge pit and are asked to throw in our idols. Could we let go? Would we even recognize them? My clock with devil’s heads as legs served as a powerful symbol. It was truly a case of eyes wide shut as 30 years later, I noticed what was before me all this time. I couldn’t help but think of Abraham, the father of monotheism, who smashed all the idols in his father’s shop. My turn had come too. Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury idols, not to praise them: What are the devils that are serving as legs in your life and where are they leading you? Everything that surrounds us has an impact on our souls. Our task is to identify the idols in our lives and destroy them. Don’t give them a leg to stand on! Subscribe to Aliza's Torah videos on YouTube...