| Parshah |

Soviet Disunion

The potent symbol of a perfect G-d Who does not receive anything from others

“You should not plant for yourself an asherah, any tree, near the Mizbeiach of Hashem…” (Devarim 16:21)


The Gemara (Sanhedrin 7b) tells us: “Whoever appoints an improper judge is as if he planted an asherah near the Mizbeiach.”
What’s the connection between an asherah and an improper judge?
Plants and animals are organic. They can change, grow, flourish. Earth, on the other hand, is unchanging. The Torah therefore insists on using earth — stone — to build a mizbeiach, not wood. Wood (when still connected to the ground) can be nurtured and change. The Mizbeiach remains as unchanging as the stone from which it was built. This embodies the all-important idea that Hashem doesn’t need the korbanos we offer on the Mizbeiach. We’re not “feeding” or “giving” to Him, because there’s nothing He lacks. A perfect G-d cannot be made more perfect.
The asherah is the opposite. Chazal (Toras Kohanim 11) say that its very name speaks of the support and assistance it receives from those serving it. It’s made of wood, leaching nutrients and the servitude of those who worship it. (Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, based on Meshech Chochmah)

If Norman Rockwell lived in Russia, he would’ve painted Mrs. Manya Fishman.

The quintessential babushka, she had bold blue eyes and bright apple-red cheeks that were as soft as a baby’s skin in her lined, wrinkled face. Dressed in flowered dresses, a colorful scarf tied under her chin, she’d take my hand and caress it gently in hers, her gnarled fingers a testimony to years of work and hardship. But you’d never know all that as she enveloped you in a hug, her excitement bubbling over when any visitor graced her home. Her humble abode was a one-room apartment in the assisted living facility down the block from us. One of the few frum residents, you’d think she felt lonely and displaced; instead, she reached out, made friends easily, her laughter and joie de vivre as omnipresent as the delicious kokosh cake she urged on all her visitors.

The Mizbeiach isn’t the only fixture of Jewish life that must eschew receiving. Justice can never be served unless judges remain entirely neutral. They too must distance themselves from any gain received from their position — be it tangible goods, favors, or prestige. The Gemara (Shabbos 10a) tells us: “Any judge who judges a true judgment according to its truth, becomes a partner with Hashem in Creation.” Just as Hashem receives nothing from us, His lowly creations, so too the judge must not receive any gain from his constituents.

Mrs. Fishman became the neighborhood bubby, crooning little Russian ditties and playing with us with her set of Russian wooden dolls, one of the few things she’d brought from the Soviet Union.

Her enjoyment of life and emunah peshutah would have made her unique in any setting. But what made these traits even more astounding was the background in which they were attained.

The judge and the Mizbeiach are partners in bringing the hearts of Bnei Yisrael close to Hashem. This explains the juxtaposition of righteous judges next to the holiness of the Mizbeiach. Chazal teach us that Sanhedrin should convene near the Mizbeiach. They both represent the potent symbol of a perfect G-d Who does not receive anything from others.

Mrs. Fishman lived most of her life trapped in the vise of Communist Russia. She never had children, and by the time she was able to escape, her husband had passed away. She was left alone.

One would expect a brittle, hard atheist to emerge from such a life, a woman who’d suffered at the hands of a cruel government and cruel life circumstances.

But Mrs. Fishman exuded energy, excitement, and love. Her giggles rang out as she struggled to find English words to explain herself, and her creative brachos were always heaped upon each and every one of us kids, the grandchildren she never had.

One Above.

How did such a person emerge unscathed, unmarked by hardship and oppression? Some people never take root in this harsh and unforgiving land in which we’re planted; they’re sustained only from the Source.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 755)

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