D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
If you don’t want to slip, stay away from slippery places
There is a saying in many addiction recovery programs – “If you hang around the barber shop long enough, sooner or later you are going to get a haircut.” In other words, if a recovering alcoholic hangs out in bars, there is a good chance he or she will eventually have a drink. But temptation – or more precisely—resisting temptation, isn’t only an issue for those in recovery. It can be a challenge for all of us, whether temptation comes in the form of a drink, a cigarette, a piece of chocolate, or a mobile phone.
In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, Moses instructs the Israelites in the laws they will need to obey, warning them against worshipping other gods:
כִּֽי־יָק֤וּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ֙ נָבִ֔יא א֖וֹ חֹלֵ֣ם חֲל֑וֹם וְנָתַ֥ן אֵלֶ֛יךָ א֖וֹת א֥וֹ מוֹפֵֽת: וּבָ֤א הָאוֹת֙ וְהַמּוֹפֵ֔ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ לֵאמֹ֑ר נֵֽלְכָ֞ה אַֽחֲרֵ֨י אֱלֹהִ֧ים אֲחֵרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יְדַעְתָּ֖ם וְנָֽעָבְדֵֽם: לֹ֣א תִשְׁמַ֗ע אֶל־דִּבְרֵי֙ הַנָּבִ֣יא הַה֔וּא א֛וֹ אֶל־חוֹלֵ֥ם הַֽחֲל֖וֹם הַה֑וּא
If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, “Let us follow and worship another god” --whom you have not experienced-- even if the sign or portent that he named to you comes true, do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. (Deut. 13:2-4)
In the case of the Israelites, Moses was warning them against giving in to temptation in the form of an idolater, someone who worships other gods. Earlier in the portion God instructs Moses to:
אַבֵּ֣ד תְּ֠אַבְּד֠וּן אֶֽת־כָּל־הַמְּקֹמ֞וֹת אֲשֶׁ֧ר עָֽבְדוּ־שָׁ֣ם הַגּוֹיִ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתֶּ֛ם יֹֽרְשִׁ֥ים אֹתָ֖ם אֶת־אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֑ם
Destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods (Deut. 12:2)
As with the Israelites and the possible idolaters in their midst, we can’t always stay away from temptation but we can still resist it in part by removing that temptation from within our midst. Even so, if you don’t want to slip, do your best to stay away from slippery places.