Raboyseyee and Ladies:
In late breaking news, we are delighted to wish a big mazel tov to our dear friends Isaac and Bina Levy upon the engagement -happening right now- of their givaldige son Josh, to Yali Cohen, she the beautiful daughter of Hilda and Jeremy Cohen, they of La Joya California. We have had the pleasure of knowing Josh since birth, meeting Yali a few weeks back, and wish upon Yali and Josh many decades of blissful marriage. We look forward to participating in every part of this simcha. Mazel tov to both extended families. The heylige Ois and eishes chayil are on the way.
But first…. we are on the way- or will be momentarily- to wish a big mazel tov to our friends Malky and Jay Spector upon the engagement of their amazing son Jeremy, to Zehava Sober, she the beautiful daughter of Shani and Bryan Sober. Mazel tov to both extended families, and may Zehava and Jeremy merit to enjoy many decades of blissful marriage.
One more mazel tov shout out to our friends Bonnie and Heshie Schertz and to their new machatunim, Rabbi and Rebbitzen Yaakov and Peshi Neuberger upon the beautiful and spirited wedding one week ago today of their children Jennifer and Rafi. Mazel tov to the entire extended Schertz, Neuberger and Miller families. May Jennifer and Rafi enjoy many years of blissful marriage and bring much nachas to their families.
And as we go to print, one last mazel tov shout out, this one to chaver Avi Gluck – he with the mellifluous voice- and his family, upon the engagement just last night of his beautiful daughter Shana, to Yoni Friedman, he the son of Rachel and Rabbi Herschel Friedman. For the Gluck’s, this is the second engagement shout- out in a few short months; more coming? May the young couple-to-be bring much nachas to the entire extended Gluck and Friedman mishpochos. Looking forward to joining you next week for the vort an le’chaim.
The heylige Ois has often mentioned that the RBSO -in His Magnificence- while teaching the heylige Toirah to Moishe, had His people in mind. He thought not just about their observance but also about their livelihood. How would all these people make a living once they crossed the Jordan and into the land? It’s been forty years since they last worked, since they were redeemed from slavery. Was there work for the millions in the midbar? Not! Did they have to dig for water? Not! At least not until Miriam passed away -in year forty; medrish tells us that the Be’er Miriam (Miriam’s well) rolled along with them and sprouted out water as needed. Were they constructing shuls, yeshivas, houses, or municipal buildings? Also not. Putting up condos or mixed development projects? Constantly on the move, they relied on huts or tents instead. Recall Bilam remarking on the modesty of their tents. The RBSO also provided food thrice daily in the form of Mun. Clouds of fire to light up the sky and clothing that never wore out were additional benefits the RBSO provided His people for forty years. Membership came with rewards. What could be better?
Welcome then to Parshas Re’ay where Moishe continues his pontification, his swan song to the Yiddin. Once again, he’s wheeling and dealing; offering blessings for those who follow in the ways of the RBSO and curses to those not so willing. Interestingly none of these blessings or curses are delineated in our parsha. Not to worry; we will be reading all about them in a few weeks. Ober what Moishe does teach while delivering some 55 new commandments is about business opportunities. In Parshas Re’ay he will subtly teach about jobs in demolition, construction and above all else, he lays out perhaps the biggest opportunity the Yiddin were ever to get: permission for Yiddin to eat and enjoy meat. Nu, we needn’t -again- mention the size of the industry, specifically the world of fleishig; it’s a yiddishe gisheft (business opportunity) that employs tens of thousands. From purveyors, farmers, truckers, shoichtim, mashgichim, caterers, restaurants, waiters, parties, BBQ grill masters and much more, there is no end. The latest craze is PRIME; more on a new opportunity in PRIME USDA GLATT KOSHER MEAT in a few weeks. Yiddin are looking to spend more and not less and they want only the best. And why not? Have we not suffered enough over the years?
The bottom line: the kosher meat business is ginormous and grows geometrically yearly. We have previously covered this topic -several times in fact- and you should avada go to archives and read them; they are mamish givaldig and can be found at www.oisvorfer.com.
Did I mention demolition? I did? And did I mention tree cutting? I did not. Ober does the heylige Toirah tell us to cut down trees? And which ones? Is the RBSO an anti-arborist? Shoin, in year 12 around this parsha, I thought we should take a look at a topic I -and many others- never quite understood, still don’t, and remain convinced that few of any -to include rabbis and other versant learned people, know not enough about. And the topic? The command given by Moishe in our parsha -earlier and also later- to demolish and obliterate structures, buildings and even trees. Trees? Why remove trees? And which ones? To make way for new development? Let’s begin by reading the instructions as found in the parsha (Devorim 12:1-3).
|1. These are the statutes and ordinances that you shall keep to perform in the land which the Lord God of your fathers gives you to possess all the days that you live on the earth.||אאֵלֶּה הַֽחֻקִּ֣ים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֘ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּשְׁמְר֣וּן לַֽעֲשׂוֹת֒ בָּאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ נָתַ֨ן יְהֹוָ֜ה אֱלֹהֵ֧י אֲבֹתֶ֛יךָ לְךָ֖ לְרִשְׁתָּ֑הּ כָּ֨ל־הַיָּמִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם חַיִּ֖ים עַל־הָֽאֲדָמָֽה:|
|2. You shall utterly destroy from all the places where the nations, that you shall possess, worshipped their gods, upon the lofty mountains and upon the hills, and under every lush tree.||באַבֵּ֣ד תְּאַבְּד֠וּן אֶת־כָּל־הַמְּקֹמ֞וֹת אֲשֶׁ֧ר עָֽבְדוּ־שָׁ֣ם הַגּוֹיִ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתֶּ֛ם יֹֽרְשִׁ֥ים אֹתָ֖ם אֶת־אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם עַל־הֶֽהָרִ֤ים הָֽרָמִים֙ וְעַל־הַגְּבָע֔וֹת וְתַ֖חַת כָּל־עֵ֥ץ רַֽעֲנָֽן:|
|3. And you shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their asherim with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place.||גוְנִתַּצְתֶּ֣ם אֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָ֗ם וְשִׁבַּרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־מַצֵּ֣בֹתָ֔ם וַֽאֲשֵֽׁרֵיהֶם֙ תִּשְׂרְפ֣וּן בָּאֵ֔שׁ וּפְסִילֵ֥י אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֖ם תְּגַדֵּע֑וּן וְאִבַּדְתֶּ֣ם אֶת־שְׁמָ֔ם מִן־הַמָּק֖וֹם הַהֽוּא:|
Ober, what the hec are these asherim? FYI: Chabad translates the word “asherim” as their poles, while Art Scroll defines the word as “their asherim.” The Ba’al Haturim translates it as “scared trees.” Rashi, referencing the heylige Gemora (Avoido Zoro 48a) tells us that “asherim” were trees “they” worshiped. Exactly how this worship took form ver veyst, but the heylige Gemora in Avoido Zoro has more to say; check it out if you dare. The bottom line: asherim were either trees or poles, and whatever they were or represented, the RBSO was not happy with them.
And the first question is azoy: what the hec is an ashero tree? What is an ashero post and why are we to cut them down? What sin did the trees commit? Why are the Yiddin commanded to tear it, and them down? Aren’t trees good? When have we previously heard about or learned about this sinning tree? Where else is it mentioned? And how is it possible that after so many years in yeshiva, most of us have no clue what this tree is, where it came from, what sins it committed and why the RBSO told us over and again to get rid of it and them? Was the RBSO not ok with the green new deal? And did the Yiddin listen to His instructions?
Where to begin? Shoin, let’s start with the great Achroin (latter day sage, otherwise known as Wikipedia) which tells us azoy: An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stood near Canaanite religious locations to honor the Ugaritic mother goddess Asherah, consort of El. What that means, ver veyst but guess what? The ashera was a she? And she had a consort? A lover? We don’t get much better clarity anywhere else. Wait: there more! The asherim were also cult objects related to the worship of Asherah, the consort of either Ba’al or, as inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom attest, and thus objects of contention among competing cults. Got all that? I you might be the only one! Seemingly, this ashera -whomever she was- had a consort by the name of Ba’al. We have met a Ba’al before; more on him later. Ok, what’s going on here? What exactly is this tree or pole we are to cut down? We’re not told! The traditional interpretation of the Biblical text is that the Yiddin imported into their own practices, pagan elements such as the Ashera poles from the surrounding Canaanites. What that means exactly, ver veyst?
Let’s try this: back in Shmois (34:13), we were given these instructions:
|But you shall demolish their altars, shatter their monuments, and cut down their sacred trees.||יגכִּ֤י אֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָם֙ תִּתֹּצ֔וּן וְאֶת־מַצֵּֽבֹתָ֖ם תְּשַׁבֵּר֑וּן וְאֶת־אֲשֵׁרָ֖יו תִּכְרֹתֽוּן:|
Let’s set the scene: Moishe had requested forgiveness on behalf of the newly minted Yiddin for worshiping the golden calf and the RBSO offered a replacement set of the Ten Commandment tablets. Posik 10 begins the covenant the RBSO made: if the Israelites obey Him, He will drive out the tribes living in Canaan. But they must cut down the Asherah poles. Seemingly, the ashera was some sort of a scared large tree or pole used for nefarious activities. Poles in every size, color and variety, have been known to get into trouble, if you chap. The bottom line: Aside from that hint, we know not much more. And in next week’s parsha we will read this: (Devorim 6:21)
לֹֽא־תִטַּ֥ע לְךָ֛ אֲשֵׁרָ֖ה כׇּל־עֵ֑ץ אֵ֗צֶל מִזְבַּ֛ח יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶׂה־לָּֽךְ׃
You shall not set up a sacred post—any kind of pole beside the altar of the LORD your God that you may make.
Rashi will tell us this: THOU SHALT NOT PLANT THEE AN ASHERA – This is intended to make one liable to punishment regarding it from the very moment that he plants it (the Ashera); even though he does not worship it, he transgresses a negative command by the mere planting of it (Sifrei Devorim 145:1). Rashi will add this: THOU SHALT NOT PLANT THEE AN ASHERA, ANY TREE NEAR UNTO THE ALTAR OF THE LORD THY GOD — This is a prohibition addressed to one who would plant a tree or build a house on the Temple mount (הר הבית) (Sifrei Devarim 145:1). Let’s chazir what we know: the RBSO abhors the ashera tree and we must tear them down and burn them. This wood is not kosher. Why not? We are not told. Was the ashera used for idol worship? For other illicit activities?
Was there taka time when the Yiddin used to worship a tree goddess? And was her name Ashera? And she was a tree? Or a pole? It’s taka emes that the Yiddin like solid wood, if you chap, ober a tree mamish? And if this ashera wasn’t some avoido zoro goddess, what was she? And why do we do have many references throughout the heylige Toirah and Tanach referring to worship of a feminine deity named Ashera, a Canaanite goddess represented by a living tree? What do we know about his mysterious wooden tree? Was she a pole? And the answer is not much! In fact, very little and that’s because the RBSO told us just that: very little!
Ober the emes is raboyseyee, that the tree or pole is mentioned over and again and if the RBSO wanted us to know more specifically why He abhors this arborist tree, mistama He would have told us. And guess what? The heylige medrish which opines on kimat everything and fills in the many lacunas the text left us with, has kimat noting at all to say about the ashera pole. There is a hole in in the pole story. What we know from other sources is that the ashera was the name of an Ancient Near Eastern goddess, also referred to as Lady Asherah of the Sea, Mother of the gods. In ancient Canaanite religion (the ancient pagan practices of the people who lived in the land until the Yiddin got there in 2488), she was the wife of El, and later Ba’al, and gave birth to the rest of the Canaanite pantheon. In other words, the ashera was a goddess with a pole of sorts and had a boyfriend -efsher a bush, ver veyst-with whom she consorted. Grada it epes does not sound very kosher, but who are we to argue with what others say about the ashera? Is any of this emes, ver veyst? There must be some reason the RBSO wanted the Yiddin -over and again- to rid themselves of the ashera. What that reason was or is, ver veyst? Shoin, since we mentioned Ba’al and that Ashera had a relationship with him, let’s recall his role in helping to pervert the Yiddin.
Let us recall an ugly myseh she’ho’yo (a real incident) we read about a few weeks ago. Towards the very end of the parsha we read the ugly incident of the Baal of Peor. What happened? Let the heylige Ois refresh your memories. We read azoy (Bamidbar 15:1-2), azoy: “the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods” It was during this episode that an Israelite named Zimri brazenly brought a Midianite woman into the camp and went straight to his tent, where the two began having sex, in public mamish (pisukim 6–8, and 14). The bottom line: the RBSO was not happy and shoin, just after the men and the women got done, if you chap, they too were done. Over 14,000 dead over the sexual incident which seemingly included an act of idol worship. Bottom line: Ba’al was not a good guy. Over in the Novee (1 Shmuel 8:5, 20) we read how the worship of Baal and Ashera was a perennial problem for the Yiddin because they wanted to be like the other nations. The other nations worshiped Baal and Ashera, and many Yiddin felt a pull to do the same. The bottom line: it appears that sacrifices made to Baal and Ashera were really sacrifices to demons and strictly verboten by the RBSO: He hates idol worship.
As the story goes, and despite myriad warnings, when the Israelites (the Yiddin) entered Canaan, they encountered and, naturally, picked up on many of the Canaanite traditions, ashera included. Women especially were drawn to ashera-worship. Got wood? All throughout Sefer Milochim (Books of Kings), we read of Israelites turning towards and away from Asherah worship. Why the women were so attracted to this wood, ver veyst? The bottom line: such attraction to the pole, or tree -ashera or whatever it was back then- is seemingly long gone, if you chap. Veyter.
In the book of Shoiftim (Judges 3:7), we read azoy: “The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their G-d and served the Baals and the Asheros.” Whatever this ashera was, she had pull and was successful in seducing the Yiddin. Seemingly, the K’nanites and other nations the RBSO would help drive out relied on many a pagan god (and goddesses), each designated for specific areas of life. It does epes appear that ashera was one of the names given for a fertility goddess in the region, hence her connection to her boyfriend lover Baal and his role in helping to corrupt the Yiddin.
One thing is zicher: the heylige Toirah (Devorim 16:21) gives very clear instructions: “do not plant for yourself an ashera of any tree next to the altar of the RBSO that you make for yourself.” This commandment is telling the Yiddin to not plant a tree representing ashera – teaching us that they knew that Ashera was represented as a tree — next to the altar of the RBSO. Ober, why does the Toirah command us not to plant ashera next to G-d?
Was it efsher because the Yiddin were already doing so? Were the Yiddin already -since their days as salves in Mitzrayim already idolizing or even worshipping the ashera tree? It appears that the draw and pull of the ashera and the ba’al were very strong, and -as mentioned above- let’s give them a break: they were an enslaved people. The hapless Yiddin-to-be did not listen to the RBSO’s instructions and commands. Even before crossing over the Jordan and into the land, they mingled with the Moabites, the Canaanites and had illicit relationships with them, perhaps combining those with some form of idol worship. The heylige Ois has reminded you over and again azoy: the RBSO mamish hates the combination of avoido zoro and illicit sexual relationships. Seemingly ashera worship combined both. It would take much effort -over many generations and over many Jewish kings- to finally rid the Yiddin of this particular form – the ashera- and other idol worship out of their systems.
Over and over again, as we make our way through Tanach (Scriptures) we find the Yiddin planting asheras in their temples, and over and over, other Yiddin come along and them down. Basically, for hundreds of years, ashera worship just skipped a generation. Finally, a seriously monotheistic Israelite king named Josiah (grandson of Menashe who had planted an Asherah pole in the Beis Hamikdash, say it’s not so (see, 2 Kings 21:7) came in, with his Koihen Godol (High Priest) Chilkiyahu, and decided it’s time to burn down the pagan goddess once and for all. (Spoiler alert: He failed.) He and his army scoured the countryside and cut down, burned, and violently destroyed every image of ashera they could find. But…………
What we know with certainty: the RBSO did not want His people associating in any way with ashera poles or sacred trees recognized by those who occupied the land before the Yiddin. In other words: it appears that the K’nanim (Canaanites) had epes a special relationship with these ashera poles or trees. As an aside, there are over 30 references to the ashera in Tanach. These cult objects are generally described as being in the shape of a pole or stylized tree. Like a pole or tree, they can be said to be planted, stood up, or erected. Conversely, when destroyed, these cult symbols can be described as being cut down, hewn down, or uprooted; they can also be said to be burned, overturned, or broken.
The bottom lines: the instructions in this week’s parsha regarding the ashera tree begins with these words: “these are the Chukim….”. As far back as I remember, chukim were never meant to be fully understood. By definition, were they totally logical and explainable, they would no longer be classified as chukim! We follow them because that’s what the RBSO wants of us. Why He abhorred the ashera tree is beyond our scope. Seemingly, this topic was also beyond the scope of most exegetes who shied away from pontificating over it. Why? Mistama they too never fully chapped what it was, what it did wrong, and why the RBSO decided to have it torn down and cut out.
And the good news: Eventually, ashera worship faded away, alongside many other idolatrous practices. Today its remembered by articles written and many forms of images in the form of art which try depicting what the ashera might have looked like back in the day. A few images found on the internet are featured this week. More good news: the ashera tree has been replaced by a tree we Yiddin do celebrate and sing about. The ashera has slowly and over time, transitioned from a tree-goddess, avoido zoro mamish- to trees-as a metaphor for divinity. Today, we chant a verse from Proverbs 3:18, “Eitz chayim hi l’machazikim boh v’somcheha me’ushar. And in English: She is a tree of life to those who hold fast to her and her supporters are blessed.” We’ve left the ashera behind and sing the word me’ushar, meaning blessed or happy. Same root letters, different ballgame altogether; all is good.
A gittin Shabbis –
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv