Category Archives: Re'eh

Staking Eternity

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: He is breathing on his own and is completely off sedation. He is considered conscious, is completely responsive to pain stimulus and somewhat responsive to commands. He is able to open his eyes and follow things and people across the room. The hope is to move him from the hospital to a rehabilitation clinic where we pray for further progress and good developments.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Re’eh

Staking Eternity

There are few things as heinous to the Torah as Idol Worship. We are repeatedly warned away from the worship of strange and foreign gods. The Talmud tells how the sages from more than two millennia ago prayed to God to take away the pervasive and unrelenting desire for this strange worship. God acceded to the demand. The burning desire was removed from humanity. As such we are told we can no longer even imagine the pressure and the passion of that particularly major sin.

I have a theory that we have found many other things we worship and are fanatical about that have taken the place of statues, but that is a topic for another day.

In any case, Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) points out some curious laws relating to idols and specifically to their destruction.

Idols are considered so evil and so corrosive, that the Torah demands they be destroyed completely and one may not gain any benefit whatsoever, whether direct or tangential from the worship or the material of idols.

Man however has the ability to ‘nullify’ the power and the status of an idol. If an idol-worshiper somehow defaces, shows disrespect or in any way demonstrates that the object he formerly worshiped is no longer worthy of such tribute – that act according to Jewish law can remove the status of ‘idol’ from the object.

Hizkuni points out an exception to this rule. Jewish idols.

An idol that is bought, owned, used or somehow attached to a Jew can never be nullified (which is another reason it needs to be destroyed completely). The spiritual energy, the spiritual bond and importance that a Jew gives to an idol has eternal power. Nothing (save destruction) can remove that eternal, spiritual link and the importance and status of the idol.

The sages like to say: “If that is the case for bad, imagine how much more so for good.”

If for the most odious crimes a piece of (bad) eternity is created, then how much more so for doing what’s right. The corollary is that for every good deed, kind word and thoughtful act we create another piece of eternity. It follows that the positive bonds of friendship, of family, of community will last forever.

May it always be so.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Pinhas Lustig on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzvah. To his parents, family and the wider Lustig and Geller families on this happy occasion. May our eternal bonds only be positive and joyous.

Death by Mediocrity

Death by Mediocrity

“Moderation? It’s mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise. It’s the devil’s dilemma. It’s neither doing nor not doing. It’s the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It’s for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. Moderation…is lukewarm tea, the devil’s own brew.“ Dan Millman, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior

In a world striving for ‘normalcy’ there is a certain comfort in moderation. To fit in, to be part of the crowd, to go with the flow is safe and uncomplicated. To dissent is to ask for trouble. To have a unique opinion or outlook puts you in danger of being ostracized.

However, mediocrity in thought or deed is really the equivalent of a living death.

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno makes a radical claim that people would say is both elitist and genetically untenable: Jews are by nature never mediocre.

The very first line of this week’s reading (Deuteronomy 11:26) boldly states:

“Behold! I place before you today a blessing and a curse.”

The Bible then continues here and elsewhere as to the various and bountiful blessings that occur as a result of following God’s commandments as well as the horrible curses that will befall those that ignore God’s commands.

Sforno comments that the Bible, by exclaiming “Behold!” is purposely bringing our attention to a new realization. Namely, that the conduct of the Jewish people is not like that of the other nations. The rest of the world is content with the middle road, with “sufficient”, “average” or even “mediocre” results. Sforno contends that Jews on the other hand tend to go to extremes – for better or worse.

He claims that when a Jew pursues success, he pursues it beyond the sufficient and strives for the utmost in excellence. Conversely, when a Jew is drawn to sin, rebellion or ungodly pursuits, he will aim for the deepest levels possible.

One doesn’t have to look far for some evidence to this thesis. Jews have a highly disproportional number of extremely successful scientists, philosophers, authors, sages and Noble Prize winners, as well as equally notorious gangsters, scam artists, criminals and revolutionaries. Individual members of the Jewish tribe manage to go to both positive and negative extremes of society. This extremism, this escape from mediocrity, has placed many of them in the limelight of history.

Mediocrity has never been a Jewish value. God asks for and demands extreme excellence from us (in blessed pursuits). May we live up to His expectations.

Shabbat Shalom,



To my mother.  Not only does she not have a bad bone in her body – she doesn’t have a mediocre one either. Every action, every movement of hers, is in pursuit of excellence. This is perhaps most obvious in her brushstrokes and in the ensuing artistic masterpieces that emerge.

To get a first hand experience of her artwork, you are personally invited to a gala event: The opening night of her first solo exhibition, this coming Thursday night, August 20, at the Jerusalem Theatre. Please see details below. You can visit her website to see a sampling of her paintings at