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And you shall not erect for yourself a pillar, which Hashem your God hates. (Devarim 16:22)
Commenting on this posuk Rashi explains that the topic of discussion is the sacrificial altar. By definition a pillar is a singe stone. The Torah forbids us to erect a singe stone as an altar because such altars were used by the Canaanites in their idolatrous practices and are thus hated by Hashem. Instead we are commanded to erect altars that are fashioned from many stones or earth. Rashi goes further to note that although we find that our forefathers did offer sacrifices on pillars (Breishis 28:18, 31:45, 35:14), that was before the Canaanites adopted this type of altar in their idolatrous worship. During those times Hashem did not hate pillar altars.
In essence, Rashi is telling us that the times have changed and therefore we are obligated to adapt with the changing times.
It is noteworthy that the word matzaivah used here in the posuk is translated as pillar. In our common usage it means a gravestone. The purpose of a gravestone is to erect a permanent memorial for a person. Homiletically, we may interpret the posuk as a command that one may not erect for himself a gravestone during his own lifetime. What does such an interpretation mean?
Combining the idea above, we may suggest that the posuk homiletically teaches us that a person should not remain obstinate and inflexible in his conduct and behavior. A person should not formulate permanent rules of conduct and behavior. Rather, one must move with the times. It goes without saying that this is permitted only within the framework of Halachah and Jewish custom, which are unquestionably permanent, unchanging and enduring. Only within areas of life that one is permitted to express his creativity one should be as the Mishnah in Avos says, soft like a reed and adapt to the changing times.
Indeed this idea represents the underpinnings of the philosophy of Torah Im Derech Eretz according to Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsh writes that Torah Im Derech Eretz means the realization of the Torah in harmonious unity with all the conditions under which its laws have been observed amidst the development of changing times. (See Collected Writing VII p. 294 and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch Ch. 17 by Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Klugman, Atrscroll Mesorah.)
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001