Shoftim: Staying Fresh
By Rabbi Yonah Burr
ולא תקים לך מצבה אשר שנא ד' אלהיך
And you shall not establish a monument which Hashem your G-d hates.
Rashi, citing the Sifri, explains: a ‘monument’ is an altar made up of a single stone. One would find a large stone or boulder and erect it as a platform to offer sacrifices. Hashem forbids us from using such an altar. By contrast, a mizba’ach is an altar made up of many stones. Hashem approves of such an altar and permits us to use it.
Rashi, anticipating the obvious question, explains: It is true that Yaakov Avinu used a one-stone altar in his service. In his times, it was permitted. Only later did it become associated with pagan worship and was therefore forbidden.
Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l explains this homiletically.
Imagine that someone known to be righteous all his life suddenly decided to slack off in his old age. "I have spent most of my life learning Torah and performing Mitzvos", he says. "Now it is time for a break! After all, even if I stop now, I would probably still maintain a majority of Mitzvos and be considered a Tzaddik!"
How would we look at such a person? Would we agree that he is still considered to be a Tzaddik even though he is "on hiatus"? Most certainly not!
One stone represents someone who has set up a stone for the service of Hashem. But it is only one stone. He started something but did not build on it. After the initial success, he became stagnant and now rests on his laurels. He is no Tzaddik!
One the other hand, a "multi-stone" altar represents someone who is constantly "adding stones" by building upon his past achievements. He never slacks off, never stops growing. He certainly might slip and face setbacks, but he is in "growth mode" -- and is, truly, a tzaddik.
Before we received the Torah and became "commanded", everything we did in our service of Hashem was voluntary. One would receive reward for the good that he did but was not held to task if he stopped. The "one-stone altar" did not hold any negative connotation. However, once the Torah was given, we became commanded, and anything suggesting that "once is enough" is inappropriate and even despised.
This is a message for every one of us. Each davening is precious, each mitzvah is precious, and each opportunity to learn Torah is a moment to be cherished. Every day is another fresh chance to serve Hashem, and we must never allow our service to get stale!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!