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It is words that connect the individuals in a society and it is words that give that society its animating spirit. It is words that define its potential. People are a nation’s cells. Land is its body. But words give it life, animation and purpose.

It is words that those who lay siege to Münster sought to cut off by building walls around the city. And it is a message that they sought to send by leaving those cages hanging in the city center.


It is, of course, words that this parsha proscribes.

The parsha doesn’t ban all words. It certainly doesn’t ban argument. After all, what would Judaism be without argument? It bans only a key phrase “let us serve other gods.”

When we utter those particular words, we abandon our moral guidestar. We abandon our dedication to life and the maximization of human creative and spiritual potential. We dedicate our efforts towards (or serve) other moral values. When we utter those words, we break away from the connective being of our nation. When we utter those words, the path to the slaughter of our own children in service of those values is not a long one. With the abandonment of our moral core it does not take much for other faiths – be they pagan or scientific – to lead us down frightening roads. These are roads that often lead to war and massive destruction. When we utter those words, we go back on the Exodus. We connect our cells to new blood – blood that is incompatible with the rest of the Jewish people. We become incompatible with our Land and we are assaulted by the rest of our social organism – like foreign cells in a living body.

These words “let us serve other gods” are very particular. They don’t simply argue for another moral system – they incite people to work towards its implementation. And even Western societies ban incitement to actions we consider immoral.

Avraham was commanded to “walk before G-d.” Avraham was supposed to lead the way. Here, we are commanded “after Hashem your G-d you should go.” The relationship has been changed. And the Torah says why: because we have to comfort in the Land.

Before, we had cells and we had speech. We were still establishing and learning our moral core. Now we are acquiring the land – and with it our national body. Our full potential is realized with the Land – but within this national body, fundamental contradictions to our moral core must be restricted.

This is not a totalitarian message. It is not a message that demands complete conformity of belief or one that refuses to allow analysis of Torah. Clearly, the text of the Torah invites argument and discussion.

This is a message that demands only that we establish and defend our most basic moral values; that we not allow others to encourage the service of other gods and the morally incompatible visions that accompany that service.

Shabbat Shalom.


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Joseph Cox is the author of the City on the Heights ( and an occasional contributor to the Jewish Press Online