Last week I was invited to discuss on Israel TV the week-long international “celebration of deviancy” scheduled to take place in Jerusalem just after Tisha B’Av. The interviewer began by asking me whether it wasn’t about time that I and my community shed our phobias. I assured her that I do not suffer from any particular phobias.
But the truth is that the upcoming event has me plenty scared. Had I attempted to explain why in a 45-second TV sound bite, however, I would no doubt have come off sounding like something of a madman. So I did not try.
But the Torah community should at least be clear about the dangers posed by this “celebration.” In the veiled discussions taking place in our community, one hears about the affront to the kedushah of Jerusalem or of Eretz Yisrael. In addition, concerns are expressed that the messages of this week-long fest will penetrate the ever more porous walls around our community.
These fears are fully justified. But they constitute only a part of the threat. We read at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading: “Pinchas . . . turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them, so I did not annihilate the Children of Israel in My vengeance” (Bamidbar 25:11). Until Pinchas slew Zimri and Cozbi, the entire people were threatened with annihilation.
When the Torah speaks about “annihilation,” it refers to something so hateful to Hashem that He cannot suffer its existence together with Him. Since His existence is permanent, that which cannot exist together with Him must be wiped out. Not just the perpetrators are swept up in the destruction of the hateful thing, but all those even remotely associated with it, or who have failed to distance themselves entirely.
What brought Klal Yisrael to the brink of destruction? The combination of idol worship and immorality. Zimri’s act of defilement flowed directly from the actions of the nation at Shiitim, where they acted promiscuously with the daughters of Moav, who then enticed them to attach themselves to their idols.
R’ Mendel of Shklov cites in the name of his teacher the Vilna Gaon a tradition that idolatry inevitably goes together with immorality. In the third paragraph of Shema, we are warned, “Do not stray after your hearts and after your eyes,” (Bamidbar 15:39). “After your hearts” refers to idol worship; “after your eyes” refers to immorality. Idolatry is often described in the Torah in the language of immorality – as a form of zenus (see Devarim 31:16).
And the conjunction of the two poses a mortal danger to one and all. As Rashi writes in parashas Noach (Bereishis 6:13): “Every place that one finds immorality and idol worship, androlemusia comes to the world killing both the righteous and the evil.”
OUR CURRENT EXILE represents the conjunction between the forces of idolatry and immorality. Though that exile goes by the name of Edom or Rome, representing idolatry, there is a subordinate aspect of the exile associated with Yishmael, who represents immorality. The Talmud (Kiddushin (49a) describes Arabian Empire as having taken nine of the ten portions of immorality that descended to the world. The Maharal writes that they actually took all ten portions, of which one was tithed to the rest of the world. If we ask where do we find evidence of the exceptional attraction of Yishmael to immorality, the answer lies in the fact that Yishmael is the only nation to have ever portrayed eternal reward in terms of an afterlife of immorality.
Basing himself on Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of an immense statue (Daniel 2:31-36), the Arizal describes a human form that symbolizes opposition to the true human form represented by the Jewish people. Each part of the statue represents another exile. The two legs of the statue, according to the Arizal, represent the Roman and Arabian Empires – i.e., the final exile.
Legs, unlike the arms, cannot function independently of one another. Both are required to walk. Thus the two legs in the vision symbolize the inevitable conjunction of idolatry and immorality. Together the legs allow us to go after our hearts (idolatry) and our eyes (immorality).
Both idolatry and immorality cause a rift in the intricately calibrated system of giving and receiving that Hashem brought into existence. All created beings are interrelated through various relationships of giving and receiving. Those relationships mimic that of Hashem, the ultimate Giver, to the entirety of Creation as Receiver.
Idolatry, the worship of Hashem’s intermediaries, detaches us from our awareness of Him as the ultimate Giver, and thus causes a break in the system of giving and receiving. So too does immorality.
Hashem imbued the entirety of Creation with a procreative urge: “. . . He did not create it [the earth] for emptiness; He fashioned it to be inhabited…” (Yeshaya 45:18). With respect to the animals, procreation is instinctual. In man, however, it is multifaceted. The teaching of Torah, for instance, is procreative. Thus one’s Torah students are considered one’s children. And only in man are the powers of procreation ever found to deviate from their original purpose towards emptiness and futility. That is immorality.
Never has the power of immorality seemed so overwhelming as today. Our age is characterized by the desire to “go after.” No one is content to remain at home, in his place. Even those who do not travel physically, hook themselves up to all forms of new technologies designed to let them stray.
Not coincidentally, our age has also witnessed the fulfillment of the Torah’s description of Yishmael, the epitome of immorality: “his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him” (Bereishis 16:12). Onkelos translates the Torah’s description as, “he will need everyone, and everyone will need him” a pretty fair description of Arab dependence on Western technology, and the world’s dependence on Arab oil.
The ascent of Yishmael, and the power of immorality in the world he represents, has been accompanied by terror and random death, which makes no distinction between the innocent and the guilty.
How we combat the threat of annihilation inherent in next month’s “celebration of deviancy” in Jerusalem remains for the gedolei Torah to decide. But all of us must be very clear as to the magnitude of the danger.
Originally published in Mishpacha magazine.