12 Av 5783 – 30 July 2023
Be very careful that you not forget the covenant that Hashem, your G-d made with you, and you make for yourselves a statue – the image of anything, that Hashem, your G-d has commanded you.
The actual wording of the original Hebrew here is a bit awkward, because it may seem to imply that G-d had commanded us to make idols. Rashi, in his commentary here clarifies that the phrase “that Hashem, your G-d commanded you” implicitly means that He commanded us not to make (idols).
Still, the phrasing is clumsy, and there is a long passage just before our verse that already explicitly warns against making idols (see verses 15-19).
Because of these considerations, R’ Menachem Mendel of Kotzk offers a unique spin to our verse. He suggests that we’re being warned not to make an idol or statue of the commandments that G-d gave to us!
He means that we shouldn’t take the external form of the commandment as the be-all and end-all of what G-d intended. Far from saying that the actual performance of the commandment is not important – the Kotzker is urging us not to view the commandments superficially. The commandments should not become objects of a checklist and mechanical discipline of obedience where we just go through the motions and take the commandments for granted. We need to actualize not just the letter of the law – but to go beyond the letter of the law and actualize the spirit of the law as well.
By Rabbi Michael Skobac
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