YESHIVAT HARA'AYON HAYEHUDI
HaRav Yehuda Kreuser SHLIT"A, Rosh Yeshiva
22 Shevat 5770/5-6 February 2010
SUPER ALTAR DAY
Between Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro coming to the Israeli camp and teaching us how to run a functional judicial system, and receiving the Ten Commandments, we find almost as a footnote at the end of the parsha, the commandment to build an altar. “An altar of earth you shall make for Me. And you shall slaughter near it your olah-offerings and your peace-offerings, your flock and your cattle; in every place where I will mention My Name, I shall come to you and bless you.”
It would seem more correct just to end the parsha after the reading of the most important Ten Commandments, which is the pinnacle of Jewish life. It is almost an anti-climax when the parsha continues and teaches us the laws of the altar, which apparently have no connection whatsoever with the parsha. Why, then, were the laws of the altar written in our parsha, and what does this have to do with 'Super Bowl Sunday’ football game?
Imagine for a moment that the 32 teams in the NFL would play the entire season but would end before the playoffs -yes, before the playoffs! Imagine that they never would play the Super Bowl, with its 130 million viewers and consumption of some 14,500 tons of potato chips. What, then, would be the point of the season if we don’t go all the way and have a winner?
The same can be said about the Jewish people and its service on the altar.
After the Torah goes through the Ten Commandments, which is equated to all the 613 commandments, there is a need to funnel this knowledge into something particular and tangible in order to bring the theoretical teachings of the Torah in to practice. This is really what Judaism is all about: Not some lesson in a classroom, but to apply it in real terms. For this reason, our Rabbis teach us that whoever learns but does not do, it is better that he would not have been born.
For this reason, the laws of how to build the altar were placed at the end of our parsha, after the mighty Ten Commandments, teaching us that if you want to know how to worship G-d and convert all the teachings into reality - Go and build the altar! Oh, you say, well that’s very nice but today we cannot build an altar to sacrifice to G-d. It is just impossible. Truth be told, it is really not so impossible after all, to build a working altar on which we can sacrifice to the L-rd. One must remember that almost two-thirds of all the commandments CANNOT be done today because we are not on the Temple Mount. How many of us really feel that pain - that our service to G-d is missing the main ingredient?
Note the following points about the altar:
1) In the Second Temple the altar was 32 amot - some 16 yards by 16 yards, with a ramp of an additional 16 yards (the equivalent of over 3 first downs in a football game). But as the Rambam brings down, the basic law is that you really only need the minimum requirement which is half a yard by half a yard - and no ramp. Not a big deal at all.
2) The stones of the altar cannot come in contact with metal - also not a big deal today, for we can gather them from the depths of the sea rocks that were never used, place them on a truck cover in wood or plastic and bring them to the Temple Mount. Or we can use laser and cut them from bedrock.
3) One of the most problematic issues surrounding the altar is that it must be constructed on the Temple Mount, it cannot be made in Monsey or even Boro Park. But it has a very specific location on the Mount. Still, for this there is also a solution. Our small altar of half a yard by half a yard can fit anywhere where the altar of the Second Temple stood (some 16 yards), being that we know the proximity of where the altar was in the Temple and will be able to build our altar on this spot.
So we find that there are really no excuses for us not to be fulfilling all of the commandments today, if we just willed it, and to put into practice all of the Torah’s commandments. The bottom line is that if it is a commandment from the Torah, then we can fulfill it. That’s what commandments are all about. It's all in our hands!