Parashat Vayikra: The terrorism of Torah

Why does Mount Moriah have greater sanctity than Mount Sinai?

Parasha picture 521 (photo credit: Israel Weiss)
Parasha picture 521
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
“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 historic terms.
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 political appointment.
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.”
Only 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 Lord.”
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 rabbi politician.
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.