by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
We live in a day when “diversity” is exalted. To a certain extent, this can be a good thing, as people are individuals and not stamped out of a divine cookie mold. However, there is also a propensity for people to develop their own rendition of truth, totally ambivalent to the history of recognition of principles. Each person becomes an island to himself, leaving society less accountable and more fractured.
In Devarim, or Deuteronomy, 12, Adonai addresses this. The Canaanite nations about to be dispossessed, displaced, and destroyed by Israel had an entire litany of gods that they worshiped; some were shared by many of the many Canaanite nation groups, others were more localized. The result was a plethora of shrines across the land where the people would go and sacrifice, in many cases burning their own children alive, a practice Scripture frequently refers to “causing their children to pass through the fire”. There were also deviant sexual practices which came to be associated with these shrines, acts that eventually led to the judgement of Adonai carried out by Israel under Joshua.
The Lord was aware that spiritual/religious isolation often led to these corrupt practices; He was determined to head off this danger.
“These are the statutes (chuqim) and ordinances (mishpatim, judgements) that you are to make sure to do in the land that Adonai, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess- all the days that you live on the earth. You must destroy all the places where the nations that you will dispossess served their gods- on the high hills and under every green tree. You are to tear down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their asherah poles in the fire and cut down the carved images of their gods, and you are to obliterate their name from that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:1-3). The Israelis were to destroy these pagan sanctuaries so that they would not become curiosities someday to their descendants, and would not lead to seduction to follow other gods.
Sadly, this commandment was frequently not followed. Many times in the Biblical historical books, even righteous kings are described as “not removing the high places”, the “bamot”, shrines which had been used for pagan purposes and from time to time were restored to those practices by Israel, to her own hurt.
In place of the Canaanite shrines, Adonai ordered a replacement. Verse 5f: “Rather, you are to seek only the place Adonai your God chooses from all your tribes to put His Name to dwell- there you will come. There you are to bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes, the offering of your hand, your vow and freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock. There you and your households will eat before Adonai your God and rejoice in every undertaking of your hand, as Adonai your God has blessed you. You will not do all the things as we are doing here today- everyone doing what is right in his own eyes. For, you have not yet come to the resting place and the inheritance that Adonai your God is giving you. But, when you cross over the Jordan and settle in the land that Adonai your God enables you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you, you will dwell in safety.”
Elohim would replace the many local shrines with one, single solitary location “to put His Name to dwell”. Not only would this mitigate against pagan apostasy possible where there was isolation in practice, but, points to the principle of God’s exclusive Plan for relationship with Him and salvation. While exclusivity runs against the grain of our cultural norms, it is totally consistent with the thrust of Scripture.
Deuteronomy 6:4: “She’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai echad”. “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one”, or “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone.”
Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father but through Me.”
Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved!”
The message of Deuteronomy 12 points down the road to the day when Adonai would send His one and only Son offered in a unique and exclusive act of sacrifice in God’s only chosen capital to give forgiveness and eternal life to all who would receive it.
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.