The goal was nothing less than total destruction on a vast scale. Moses
warned the Jewish people that when they crossed into the Promised Land they
would encounter all sorts of pagan idols and places of worship. These
intolerable abominations were to be immediately eradicated. Pulverize every
idol and graven image, he exhorted them. Burn down their asheirah trees.
Destroy their altars and temples. Wipe out every trace of the idolatry
prevalent in the land. The exhortation concludes, however, with a rather
strange directive, "You shall not do so to Hashem!"
Why did Moses find it necessary to tell the people not to mount a campaign
of destruction against Hashem? Who would ever dream of wantonly destroying
Jewish places of worship?
The commentators explain that human nature has a way of adapting to the most
unpleasant circumstances. Sensitive people exposed to violence and mayhem
for longer periods of time very often become hardened and thick-skinned.
After a while, deeds and spectacles which would have scandalized and
revolted them no longer have the same effect. They become different people,
cruel, hard, merciless.
When Moses told the Jewish people to attack the pagan culture with utmost
violence, to uproot, pulverize, smash everything in sight, they had good
reason to be concerned about how this would affect their character. Would
formerly gentle, refined people become brutalized and violent?
There was no need to worry, Moses reassured them. Smashing idols was not an
act of destruction, and it would not transform them into violent people. On
the contrary, cleansing the land of the pagan abominations was a
constructive enterprise of the highest order. Smashing idols would never
lead them to acts of wanton and gratuitous violence.
"You shall not do so to Hashem!" Moses told them. This was a promise rather
than a command. In other words, do not be afraid to attack the idols with
unrelenting ferocity. You shall not become inclined to turn that same
destructiveness against Hashem's holy places. You shall remain the same
high-minded, refined people that you were before.
Several army officers, one of them a field doctor, went to see a boxing
match. As the pugilists stepped into the ring, the crowd greeted them with
loud and boisterous cheers.
The match began. Punches and blows flew through the air. Most missed their
mark, but some of them landed. After two rounds, both fighters were bleeding
profusely from cuts to the face. The crowd loved it and screamed with
delight at every new burst of blood.
The army officers were on their feet, lustily cheering on the fighters. Only
the army doctor remained seated. He looked pale, and he face was bathed in a
"Hey, what's the matter?" asked one of his comrades. "You look ill."
"I cannot bear to watch," said the doctor. "The sight of blood makes me queasy."
The other officer laughed. "That's a fine joke," he said. "You queasy at the
sight of blood? Why, I've seen you amputate a soldier's leg on the
battlefield without batting an eyelash. What's a little blood to you? You
must be immune to the sight of blood."
"You don't understand," said the doctor. "When I operate in the hospital or
out on the battlefield, I am healing my patients. That is not blood of
violence. The blood flowing in that ring down there is of a totally
different character, and I have no stomach for it."
In our own lives, we often find it necessary to take harsh measures in our
relations with our children, family members or business associates. Many
people who find themselves in these situation experience feelings of
self-doubt. Are they becoming somewhat cold and callous? The answer lies in
focusing on the positive results we aim to achieve. If our motivations are
constructive, well-advised and devoid of anger and frustration, we can rest
assured that we will not suffer any spiritual damage.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.