Efrat, Israel – “…An individual who will sacrifice from yourself a sacrificial offering unto the Lord…” (Leviticus 1:2)
My teacher and mentor Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik ztz”l would often speak of the two great Biblical mountains, Mt. Moriah where G-d sent Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and Mt. Sinai, from which G-d presented His Torah to the Israelites.
Conventional wisdom would maintain that Mt. Sinai should have been the more sacred of the two, since there is nothing on earth more sacred than our Divinely given Torah, the very words of G-d. Nevertheless, the Sages of the Talmud only endowed eternal sanctity to Mt. Moriah, upon which our first two Holy Temples were built and which will be the foundation for the third Holy Temple as well. Mt. 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 Mt. Moriah have greater sanctity than Mt. Sinai?
Rav Soloveitchik magnificently explains that whereas on Mt. Sinai, G-d presented Israel with the gift of His Torah, on Mt. Moriah, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son to G-d. My teacher insisted that sanctity requires sacrifice and the greater the human sacrifice, the higher the degree of Divine sanctity.
Biblical Judaism took great pains to ensure that religion—our G-d given values and ideals—be seen as the apex of our communal structure. It should be the national commitment toward which we all aspire and for which the individual must be willing to sacrifice material comforts and even his/her own life. It is because we took the Abraham-Isaac model so seriously that our history is so tear-drenched and blood-stained, from the Hebrew babies in the River Nile at the beginnings of our history to the present day 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, it is only a commitment to G-d where we are willing to put our future at risk that we will secure an eternal future.
But though we must sacrifice our material comforts, and even our professional standing on the altar of our religious ideals; we dare not utilize our religious ideals as the stepping stones to enhance our personal power and prestige. Once that happens, then our religious ideals will become tainted and corrupted, the subjective ego will become the goal, and the still-small voice of G-d will be drowned out by the raucous shouts of political power.
Hence our Bible attempted to separate the religious estate from political power and governmental structure. The priest-teacher Kohanim were meant to minister in the Temple, not in the palace of 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 became the governmental ruling class, it was tragic for Judaism, and presaged the death-knell of the Second Temple. (See Ramban, Genesis 49:10)
The 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 the prophet, the king is 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—devoid of a seat in parliament, government office, secretary, car and driver, and driven only by the voice of G-d burning within him 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 venerated King to descend from his throne, weep uncontrollably and declare, “I have sinned before the Lord.”
When religion becomes a traded 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 individual rabbi-politician.
Shame on the “rabbis” who take Torah out of the beit midrash and into hooligan initiated street demonstrations, expressions of political power whose ugly shouts drown out the Biblical directive; “You shall love the stranger, convert.” Shame on the rabbi-politicians who sacrifice the future of our land and country to gain governmental funds for an educational system which trains able-bodied men to live unproductive lives, contrary to objective and truly traditional Torah law (a Torah which was meant to be a prescription for life, not a substitute for life); shame on religious political parties who appoint insensitive judges, impervious to the cries of women hopelessly locked into marital bondage in defiance of the Talmudic directive to be lenient in freeing the agunah.
We must free our Holy Torah from the shackles of 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 politicized the sacred.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Chancellor Ohr Torah Stone
Chief Rabbi — Efrat Israel