When in Rome…Don’t do as the Romans Do by Chaim Metzger


In Parashat BeHar, there is a rather perplexing and repetitive phrase in the section regarding an enslaved Jew: “Et Shabetotai Tishmoru UMikdashi Tira’u,” “You shall observe My Shabbatot and revere My Sanctuary” (VaYikra 26:2). Rashi explains in the previous Pasuk that a Jew who has been sold to a non-Jew may not engage in incest, even if his master does. This interpretation doesn’t seem to fit because incest is not mentioned in that Pasuk. This phrase must be referring to the other explanation in Rashi: a Jew in the same scenario may not perform idolatry. If so, why are Shabbat and the sanctuary mentioned in conjunction with this section? They seem to have nothing to do with incest or idolatry!

Rav Moshe Feinstein suggests that there may be another lesson. The Jewish slave should not worship Hashem in the manner that the heathens do, focusing all of their faith as to what they do surrounding their place of worship, but not applying this faith at home. On the other hand, in Judaism, we must respect the Temple, but we do not worship the Temple or what is contained within; rather, we worship Hashem. Also, our primary mission is not fulfilled in the Temple, but rather in our homes and in our everyday life. While revering the Temple is important, it is not essential to maintain our identity as Jews because we have survived almost 2000 years without it. However, observing the Shabbat is indispensible. In the early parts of the 20th century, many Jews were faced with a dilemma when they moved in the United States: they could work on Shabbat or lose their jobs. While many elected to lose their jobs rather than desecrate the Shabbat, some others did not. Those Jews who forsook the Shabbat lost their Jewish identity and became assimilated into society. So while, admittedly, it is a painful fact that we do not have the Temple, if we were to have it and not the Torah and all of its mitzvot, the Temple would be meaningless.

The Navi Hoshea expresses this sentiment as he describes a sad occurrence amongst B’nei Yisrael: “VaYishkach Yisrael Et Osehu VaYiven Heichalot,” “And Israel forgot its Maker and built temples” (Hoshea 8:14). In our time, many people duly make their contributions to their synagogues, yeshivot, or charitable organizations, but they often neglect the most important aspect of Judaism, the sin qua non, studying Torah. People who take this approach have taken the view from the non-Jews that the temple or house of worship is more important than any other aspect of religion. Therefore it is exigent to heed the message of the Pasuk of “Et Shabetotai Tishmoru UMikdashi Tira’u” and remember that though supporting our institutions is important, we must not forget what the true task of being a Jew is, and follow the words of the Torah and its mitzvot.

-Adapted from Darash Moshe by Rav Moshe Feinstein

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