Former Shaliach in Memphis
Currently M.A in Economics.
Teaching Assistant in Ben-Gurion University and Sapir Academic College
I remember the time I had the privilege of visiting, for the first time, the Starbucks on Poplar and Ridgeway in Memphis. After getting used to the one at the intersection of White Station (I’ve been there at least twice) and having been in several others around the country, I can definitely say that it’s one of the better ones I’ve been to and is highly recommended. Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to understand how a chain that sells coffee and opens a branch every two blocks (less in real major cities) is able to remain profitable.
After spending 30 minutes at the Starbucks mentioned above I realized something else, their diversity. Each branch has its own style. That one is very laid back, boasting very comfortable chairs and dim lighting. Others are for short 10 minute breaks and yet others are geared primarily for drive-thru. I’m not even going to mention the variety of coffees that they serve. Basically Starbucks can suit virtually any type of coffee-lover, in any place. It is perhaps the most accommodating, consumer-sensitive retailer in the world today.
Now, this week’s Parsha does not discuss coffee, however it does discuss Idol worship. Verses 2-5 of chapter 12 read as follows: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshipped their gods: on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; and their sacred trees you shall burn in the fire; their carved images shall you cut down; and you shall obliterate their names from that place. You shall not do so to Hashem, your God. Rather only at the place that Hashem, your God, will choose…to place His name there shall you seek out His Presence and come there.”
Note the diversity that exists in idol worship. There are numerous forms of idols and they can be found just about anywhere. Verse 4 which tells us not to do so to Hashem, can be interpreted in several ways, yet based on verse 5 it seems clear that we are commanded not to have such multiplicity in our service of Him. Instead, we are all to gather in one place, the place which He has designated for worship, not us. Idol worship was very common and tempting because it enabled a person to do literally whatever he wanted, and according to these verses, also wherever he wanted. In a sense, the idol-worshipper was the center of focus; he was the customer and he was always right. Now, although such a philosophy may be befitting of idol-worship or a coffee chain, it does not befit Hashem.
In the beginning and the end of this week’s parsha it is stressed that a person who wants to make any type of offering to Hashem must ascend to Jerusalem in order to do so. Although Hashem is not confined within the borders of this holy city, it is quite clear why one must follow such a regimen. When something becomes common and easy to attain it is not properly respected. When a Jew began his voyage towards the temple, cautious not to become impure, he built within himself the Awe of the Almighty, and the appreciation of Him, making the experience more spiritually beneficial. He could easily understand that Hashem was the center of attention, not himself, which is clearly a pivotal recognition. Although Hashem is truly everywhere, it is essential for our own sake that we have a designated place to worship Him, back then and today as well.
With that being said, we now begin the month of Elul, and one of the main themes of this month is “Hamelech Basa’de”, which means the king is in the field. This comes to tell us that Hashem is now more accessible than ever, making it an optimal time to do Teshuva (repentance). It seems that although the formal worship of Hashem must be done in a certain way and place in order to maintain a high level of respect, a person can, and must, aspire to build his relationship with Hashem in any and every acceptable way possible.