Shoftim -Sensitivity to Another’s Change of Feelings

One of the prohibitions in this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim is, “And you shall not set up for yourself a monument, which Hashem, your God hates” (Devarim 16:22). The Rosh points out, “Even though He loved the monuments in the days of The Forefathers, as we find regarding Yaakov, ‘and he set it up as a monument’ (Breishis 28:18), but since the Amorites were accustomed to make them for the sake of their idols ‘I hate them’. Similarly, we can find the equivalent in the first chapter of Avoda Zara 8a.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

[The gemara in  Avoda Zara that the Daas Zekeinim must be referring to, it writes: “With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: ‘And to dust shall you return’ (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.”]

The case the Rosh mentions of Yaakov Avinu is when he fled from Esav on the way to Lavan and he stopped by the future place of the Har HaBayis,(Temple Mount.) Here he had the dream of the angels going up and down the ladder and the 12 stones coalesced into one, which he used as a pillow, and dedicated as a monument in the morning. The Ramban there explains the difference between a matzeiva, a monument and a mizbeach, an altar: “Our rabbis have already taught us in Avoda Zara 53b the difference between a matzeva and a mizbeach. The matzeiva is one big stone and the mizbeach is many stones put together. Furthermore, it would seem the matzeiva is only used for pouring wine libations and anointing oil on it, not for a burnt offering or any other sacrifice. The mizbeach is used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings. When they came into The Land the matzeiva became forbidden to them (Devarim 16:22) because the Canaanites used it more centrally to worship idols then alters, even though it writes by them, ‘But you shall demolish their altars’ (Shemos 34:13). Or He didn’t want to prohibit everything, and He left the mizbeach which can be used for libations and sacrifices.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Imagine if a monument was set up in the Beis Hamikdash to bring wine libations to Hashem. The Kohen Gadol, purely for the Sake of Heaven, gave a wine libation on the monument; what would be wrong with that? He is doing something purely out of love and fear of Hashem, without any ulterior motives and in such a holy place; why should that be forbidden? Yet Hashem forbade it and loathes a matzeiva, even though it was once permitted and beloved by Hashem when Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov did it, because the Canaanites now used it for their idols. It became their central process of worship. so it is now detestable, even when used in worshiping Hashem.

If Hashem, the Almighty, King Of All King, in truth one and only G-D, can on an intellectual level express that something which was beloved by Him as an expression of commitment and dedication by the forefathers, can now be hated because this form of worship became centrally used by heathens towards their false gods, then all the more so, on an emotional level, we have to be sensitive to the fragile feelings of human beings. Indeed, it is possible that what a person once liked and enjoyed he or she might not love anymore, and might in fact hate with a passion. If you are notified or realize someone has a change of heart, then you should be cognizant of this fact, and it is a poor excuse to say that you meant well and were only trying to give them a gift which you knew they used to like. It can hurt a person. Even if they did like it but now for whatever reason they change their minds, even if you have all the proper intent if this is not what they desire, it’s not appropriate to give it to them as a gift.

Bottomline, outside factors can change a situation and one with even the purest of intent can possibly hurt someone else and be doing something wrong.