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The Systems of the Jewish Year


By Rabbi Sender Haber

The Torah tells us in Parshas Shoftim (17:22) – You should not erect a ‘Matzeiva’ – a monument, which your G-d hates. This Pasuk was one of six Pesukim etched onto King Solomon’s throne.

The simple understanding of the verse is that we should not create a Matzeivah for idolatry, as the Ibn Ezra explains. Rashi quotes the Sifri that it is also forbidden to build a Matzeivah for legitimate sacrifices.

The difference between a Matzeivah, a monument, and a Mizbeiach, an altar, is that one is made of many stones and one is made of one stone. G-d hates the Matzeivah which is made with one stone. He favors the Mizbeach which is made with many stones.

This is very odd. The Matzeivah was not the only thing use by idolators. They used Mizbeiach’s as well. This is clear throughout the Torah. Furthermore, Yaacov built two Matzeivos. One was after his dream on Har Hamoriah and the second was after separating from Lavan. Did Hashem hate those too?

The Ramban and the Rambam explain that the Matzeivah that is forbidden was not a Mizbeiach at all. Besides for worshiping their gods, the pagans also worshipped the actual places of worship and stones upon which the priests would stand. This was frowned upon.

A third approach is that of the Abarbanel. The Abarbanel makes an important distinction between a Matzeivah and a Mizbeiach. A matzeivah is a monument to a past event, a reminder of something or someone that was. A Mizbeiach is an expression of thanks or prayer to Hashem. Yaakov built both a monument and an altar, but he was careful not to mix the two. He built Matzeivos but never prayed on them. He brought his sacrifices on a Mizbeiach. The idol worshipers, Abarbanel explains, did not know how to differentiate between a memory and a prayer. They brought their sacrifices right on the Matzeivah.

Remembering events, feelings, and people are important and they are an integral part of being Jewish. Still, they are not Hashem. Our relationship is with Hashem and Hashem alone. 

And when Elul and Rosh Hashana comes, we need to break out of our comfort level.

We’ve all met people who had their fifteen minutes of fame. The reality is that after most people finish their fifteen minutes they are forgotten. They try to milk those fifteen minutes everywhere they go and with everyone they meet for the rest of their lives. Yet they find that most people don’t care. It’s nostalgia. Catching a home run ball at the World Series or meeting the President of the United States will only get you so far.

It wasn’t enough for Yaacov to come back to Har Hamoriah and remember his dream with the ladder. That was awesome, but he had to keep moving. He built a new Mizbeach and brought new sacrifices to Hashem.

We need to take everything that we have from previous years and move forward. We need to try something new, take something up a notch. We can’t just bask in memories of great Elul’s past.

Elul needs to be about more than just nostalgia. Forget the Matzeivah. Build a Mizbeiach.

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