• Rabbi Chaim Richman

Va’etchanan - You Saw No Image

In the Torah portion of Ve’etchanan, Moshe continues to prepare the people of Israel for their soon entry into the Land – as well as for his soon departure from this world. In his review of the event of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (the ‘Sinai Revelation’), Moshe reminds the people to be careful to always remember that Hashem has no physical form and that no representation of G-dliness can ever be made. He declares:


“But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children,


the day you stood before Hashem your G-d at Horeb, when Hashem said to me, "Assemble the people for Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.


And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness, a cloud, and opaque darkness.

Hashem spoke to you out of the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of the words, but saw no image, just a voice.


And He told you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets. And Hashem commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, so that you should do them in the land to which you are crossing, to possess.


And you shall watch yourselves very well, for you did not see any image on the day that Hashem spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire. Lest you become corrupt and make for yourselves a graven image, the representation of any form, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the heaven, the likeness of anything that crawls on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters, beneath the earth.


And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, which Hashem your G-d assigned to all peoples under the entire heaven, and be drawn away to prostrate yourselves before them and worship them. “

This is not the only place in Torah where we are admonished to remember that ‘we saw no image’ but only heard Hashem. Why does the Torah have to issue so many warnings, not to assign any physical form or representation? Why would we make that mistake?

The Torah emphasizes this issue precisely because it really has been, and continues to be a serious problem -- and a recurring problem. Nowadays most people may not prostrate themselves and worship images of beasts, or fish or crawly things, or heavenly spheres…but man’s tendency to need a physical anchor (or crutch), something tangible and solid to hang on to, deeply persists within the human psyche. There are many contemporary forms of idolatry which people will use as substitutes or stand-ins or proxies for Hashem…why?


This is reminiscent of the episode of the Golden Calf, which demonstrated a lack of spiritual maturity. Hashem beckons us to embark upon a lifelong adventure of constantly getting closer to Him on a real level….our life’s work is to develop and grow as spiritually mature beings who are capable of reaching the understanding that Hashem cannot be contained ….not in our pockets, not around our necks or in a building, and not even in our minds.


It takes integrity and courage to embark upon this path, to realize that we are in the Universe with the One True G-d who is Himself the sum total of reality, of existence. "Shema Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One"…doesn’t just mean that we believe in G-d’s Oneness. The real secret of Shema in this week’s Torah portion, is that there is nothing else but Hashem. He is reality. How could that ever be represented in an image?


So Moshe tells his people: time to grow up and deal with it. This is outside your comfort zone, and always will be: Remember that you saw no image because there is nothing but Hashem.


May we merit to truly serve the One True G-d!

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