“An individual who will sacrifice from yourself a sacrificial offering unto the
Lord…” (Leviticus 1:2)
My teacher and mentor Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
would often speak of the two great biblical mountains – Mount Moriah where God
sent Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and Mount Sinai, from which God
presented the Torah to the Israelites.
Conventional wisdom would maintain
that Mount Sinai should have been the more sacred, since there is nothing on
Earth more sacred than our divinely given Torah – the very words of God.
Nevertheless, the sages of the Talmud endowed eternal sanctity only to Mount
Moriah, upon which our first two Holy Temples were built, and which will be the
foundation for the third Temple as well.
Mount Sinai, by contrast,
sustained its sanctity only during the period when the Divine Voice emanated
from its heights; today it is no longer sacred, and could therefore be given up
as part of Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt.
Why does Mount Moriah
have greater sanctity than Mount Sinai? Rav Soloveitchik explains that whereas
on Mount Sinai God presented Israel with His Torah, on Mount Moriah Abraham was
willing to sacrifice his beloved son to God.
My teacher insisted that
sanctity requires sacrifice, and the greater the sacrifice, the higher the
degree of divine sanctity.
Biblical Judaism took great pains to insure
that our religion – our God-given values and ideals – be seen as the apex of our
communal structure. It should embody the national commitment toward which we all
aspire, and for which the individual must be willing to sacrifice even his/her
own life. It is because we took the Abraham/Isaac model so seriously that our
history is so tear-drenched and bloodstained, from the Hebrew babies drowned in
the Nile at the beginning of our history to the presentday Israeli cemeteries,
where so many parents have buried their children.
It is also because of
this that – paradoxically – we have survived, and largely succeeded in
transmitting our sacred faith, until today. Apparently, only a commitment to God
which places one’s personal future at risk will secure an eternal future in
But though we must sacrifice our material comforts, even
our professional standing on the altar of our religious ideals, we dare not
utilize those ideals as stepping stones to enhance our personal power or
prestige. Once that happens, our religious ideals will become corrupted, ego
enhancement will become the goal, and the still, small voice of God will be
drowned out by the insidious slogans of political power.
Hence our Bible
attempted to separate the religious estate from political power. The
priest-teachers, kohanim, were meant to minister in the Temple, not in
parliament, and the prophet was totally independent of the monarch, neither
appointed nor supported by any of the king’s agencies.
When, in the
Hasmonean period of the Second Commonwealth, the kohanim also became the
governmental ruling class, it presaged the death-knell of the Second Temple (see
Nahmanides, Genesis 49:10).
Members of the Sanhedrin were not appointed
by the ruling powers; they were totally independent, their office was determined
by scholarship and piety alone. Indeed, in the absence of a prophet, the king
was to be appointed by the Sanhedrin! The Bible does not advocate a separation
of religion from state (it was the king who biblically exhorted the Israelites
at Hakhel); but it certainly does advocate a separation between religion and
politics – a system whereby the religious leadership is completely independent
of the ruling power, so that the Chief Rabbinate is a religious and not a
Only an independent prophet like Nathan – without
a seat in parliament, government office, secretary, car or driver, and driven
only by the voice of God burning in his bones – could have had the courage to
stand before King David with the damning words “thou art the man.”
such an independent and truly spiritual personage could have caused the king to
descend from his throne, weep and declare: “I have sinned before the
When religion becomes a political commodity, when rabbis use
religion to gain political power instead of sacrificing personal benefits for
religious values, religious values get sacrificed for the aggrandizement of the
Shame on the “rabbis” who take the Torah scrolls out of
the beit midrash and into hooligan-initiated street demonstrations – expressions
of political power whose ugly shouts drown out the biblical directive to “love
the stranger/convert.” Shame on the rabbi-politicians who sacrifice the future
of our land and country to gain government funds for an educational system which
trains able-bodied men to live unproductive lives, contrary to Torah law (the
Torah which was to be a prescription for life, not a substitute for it); shame
on religious political parties who appoint insensitive judges, impervious to the
cries of women chained in marital bondage, and in defiance of the talmudic
directive to be lenient in freeing the aguna.
We must free our Holy Torah
from the petty politics of Torarism – the terrorism of Torah. We must understand
that politics corrupts, and religious politics corrupts absolutely. We did not
sanctify the political; we have politicized the sacred.The writer is the
founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and
chief rabbi of Efrat.