After a brief hiatus last week, we’re back with an ambiguous verse at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.
A TorahTutors student learned that Devarim 12:2-3 states “You shall surely destroy all the places…and break down their altars…” – an apparently straightforward instruction to wipe out idolatry. Of course, even the apparently straightforward must be studied in greater depth. Among other details worthy of note, the tutor highlighted a phrase in the Sefer Hachinuch’s presentation of this mitzvah, “that it is a commandment upon us to destroy the name of idolatry if the power is in our hands” (mitzvah #436), and challenged the student to think about the implications and importance of that qualification.
Verse 4 then presents a contrast: “You shall not do so to Hashem, your God” – but it is not immediately clear whether the contrast is between v. 4 and the preceding (i.e., don’t erase God’s name or destroy items used in His worship) or between v. 4 and v. 5, which states, “but to the place which Hashem, your God, shall choose…” (i.e., idolaters worshipped in all sorts of places and on private altars, but sacrifices to God should be brought in one centralized location).
Part of the beauty of an ambiguous verse is that it draws the learner into the text, in pursuit of varieties of meaning and the basic mind-broadening notion that the same few words could convey more than one idea.
Just one aspect (or several :)) of why we love engaging in text learning with our students!