Do not make the Torah into an Idol

While on the topic of Yitro, here is a classic homily from Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbitz about not making the Torah into an idol. Moses’ Torah was only known by Moses, the rest of us only grasp the Torah incompletely, in moments and parts. The Torah is experiential, looking back toward the experience at Sinai.
Note how saving a life on the Sabbath is presented in Poland, as a revelation of the moment that over rides the ordinary norm. Saving a life is treated as an event that gives a deeper insight into the law and not just an act of legal triage.

“I (anokhi) am the Lord (the Tetragrammaton) your God.” It does not say “I (ani)” because then it would imply that God revealed Himself completely to Israel all His light. One would not be able afterward to deepen His words because everything has already been revealed.. The kaf [implying comparison], however teaches that it was not complete, but only an image, a resemblance to the light, which in the future God will reveal.
The more a person grasps the depths of Torah the more he sees that he was previously walking in darkness… Therefore, “do not make any hewn god” in order not to make the Torah into a habit. Hewn means cut, measured, and fixed — complete without any lack.
Only Moses’ Torah was perfect, but the human intellect it is impossible to attain complete perfection…
Our law, according to the Torah, permits violating the Sabbath in order to save a life. Yet, it is against the Torah to violate the Sabbath not in order to save a life. Similarly, in every place in which there is “a time to act for God” there is a commandment of “overturning Your Torah.”
The Torah includes all events that will arise and its light encompasses all situations and all possible experiences. No one person may achieve this level. This is explained in the holy Zohar on the phrase “do not make for yourself a graven image” which are understood as referring to positive commandments, “and any picture” connotes negative commandments. Nothing is revealed to anyone in its infinite nature.(Mei HaShiloah . I:25a.)

Here is another one for this week about not blaming things on one’s parents. One has to take responsibility for the present.

“Honor your father and mother” One should not ascribe one’s faults to one’s upbringing… rather, ascribe the fault to one’s self and bring a sacrifice to atone. (Mei HaShiloah . I:26a.)

From the same continuity of homilies:
“Make no god of silver and god of gold for yourself, but an altar of earth build me” Silver represents love and burning fervor greater than human capability.
Gold stands for fear and awe greater than human capability.
But earth stands for simplicity within the heart. (Mei Hashiloah I: 26a).


Now, what do these homilies mean? How do we apply them? I have know them so long that their novel effect has worn off. On one hand, asking what they mean could serve as a Rorschach test for the interpreter. But if we can get beyond the first thoughts, what do they mean today?

People turned in the 1970’s to Kotzk to find disestablishmentarian statements, they turn to the school of the Maggid for ecstatic prayer, to Chabad for non-duality, and to Rav Nahman for acknowledging emotions and faults. What do we acknowledge or seek to gain when we turn to the Mei Hashiloah of Izbitza?

4 responses to “Do not make the Torah into an Idol

  1. “The more a person grasps the depths of Torah the more he sees that he was previously walking in darkness… Therefore, “do not make any hewn god” in order not to make the Torah into a habit. Hewn means cut, measured, and fixed — complete without any lack.”

    This reminds me of Nicholas of Cusa. Believing in one God means believing that you do not understand what you believe in or to whom you are praying.

  2. Aabye Felderstein

    I think on a superficial level, people turn to Izbitz to justify their subversive conduct. On a deeper level, people turn to Izbitz when they want to find peace amid the deep contradictions of life, or when they sense that reality is much more complicated and nuanced that they previosuly believed.

    A question I’d like to hear you in particular answer is why people turn to R. Zadok?

  3. I can’t find the reference to “honor your father and mother” in my copy of Mei HaShiloach. which edition do you have?

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