Dedicated in loving memory of Rabbi Chaim Gurevitch.


By his children Rabbi Berel and Rivky Gurevitch






Yasher Koiach to Avremi and Mendy and the entire team!


Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov

11 Nissan: Choosing Wisely

March 17, 2023

Idolatry seems primitive and ludicrous. Why are the Jewish people called “wise” on account of their choice to serve G-d? A fascinating discussion about the complexities of life and the courage to choose right.

A. 12 Days of Festivities

The dedication of the mishkan took place on the first day of Nissan and over the next 12 days the chiefs of each tribe offered special sacrifices. On the eleventh day, the chief of Asher offered his sacrifice. (Source 1).

The midrash explains homiletically that “Asher” represents that Jewish people’s joy at the time of the redemption and their praise for their choosing them G-d, and His choosing them to be His nation.

B. A Tough Choice

Why, the Rebbe asks, is choosing G-d over statues and stones particularly wise? How can G-d be placed opposite idols and that be called “choosing?”

The Rebbe cites another midrash which compares choosing G-d over idols to a wise person choosing the king over the ministers. (Sources 3-4). Every child knows that the king is more important than the ministers, the Rebbe asks. Where is the wisdom here?

C. The Evolution of Idolatry

The early generations thought that G-d created the world and runs it, but that he does so through intermediaries like the sun and moon. Therefore, the intermediaries are worthy of appreciation. The next phase of the theology was that the sun and moon run the world almost independently, and G-d intervenes only in extreme cases. If so, the celestial bodies  should certainly be worshipped. Maimonides describes the evolution of these beliefs and their popularity. Most of ancient civilization believed in this way, except for several lone individuals who worshiped G-d. (Source 5).  

Accordingly, we can understand the wise person’s choice. They know that the sun and moon are really “an axe in the woodchopper’s hand,” and G-d runs everything.

D. Choosing Sacrifice

In order to absorb holiness, one needs to nullify themselves. Moreover, the resulting flow of holiness is gradual, drop by drop. By contrast, to receive from the other side you don’t need to nullify yourself and the flow is far greater. This is the wise person’s choice: they are ready to put in the effort and sacrifice to receive holiness. 

Willingness to nullify oneself cannot be taken for granted. We are created with a selfish ego. From where do we get the strength to temper it and nullify ourselves? This decision comes from our soul.

E. Choosing Between Goodand Better

King David says in Psalms: “A poor man’s prayer; enwrapped, he pours out his words before G-d.” (Source 6). The Baal Shem Tov explains that the poor man’s prayer and request is simply  to speak to the King. (Source 7). Poor people are brought into the king’s palace and can take anything they want. One will take a silver treasure, another will take a lavish meal, and so on. The wise man, however, will not succumb to temptations and will focus on the most valuable thing: to keep going and meet the king. This is the wise poor man whose only request is to “pour out his words before G-d.”

Another verse in Psalms: “Whom do I have in heaven, and I desire no one with You on earth.” King David doesn’t settle for any angels, he wants G-d Himself. (Source 8).

The Alter Rebbe was the same way, the Rebbe recounts. In a moment of intense spiritual inspiration he said: “I want nothing. I don’t want Your Paradise, I don’t want Your World to Come. I want nothing but You alone.”

This is the true choice of the wise person. Not only do they choose between the holy and the profane, between comfort and the right thing, but within holiness they choose the holier over the holy.

The Alter Rebbe’s statement empowers us all to choose right. One who makes the right decision will ultimately reap material reward as well.




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