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    First anecdote: A

    man goes out with a

    woman on their first

    date. For the first

    three hours he talks

    only about himself,

    his history,


    and interests. Finally, he turns to her and says:

    “Enough of me speaking about myself; let me

    hear what you have to say about me.” Second

    anecdote: The rabbi was hospitalized

    recovering from a heart attack when the

    president of the congregation visited him. He

    said: “Rabbi, I have good news and bad

    news.” “First the good news” the rabbi said.

    “On behalf of the board of directors I am here

    to wish you a speedy recovery.” “That’s

    wonderful” said the rabbi, “and what’s the

    bad news?” “The vote was 7 to 6.” Despising

    Single Stones This week’s Torah portion,

    Shoftim, communicates the following

    commandment: “You shall not erect for

    yourself a pillar. This is something which the

    Lord your G-d despises.” The most basic

    biblical commentator, Rashi, explains this as

    a prohibition against erecting an altar of a

    single stone, even if the intent was to use this

    altar as a place where offerings were

    presented to G-d. Though the Torah

    elsewhere clearly allows the existence of

    altars made of stone in the Holy Temple in

    Jerusalem and in the Tabernacle in the desert,

    Rashi explains that this is only true of altars

    made of many stones, not of a single stone.

    Yet one wonders about the logic of

    distinguishing between an altar built of many

    stones that is deemed desirable by G-d vs. an

    altar built of a single stone which the Torah

    defines as an object of G-d’s hate. Does it

    really make a difference whether you present

    an offering on an altar of one stone or of

    many stones? Rashi explains that the

    difference is not intrinsic but historical. In the

    times of the Patriarchs, Rashi writes, they

    would build single stone pillars for the sake

    of presenting offerings to G-d, and “it was

    beloved by G-d.” However, once the

    Canaanites adopted this practice and began

    building single-stone altars for idolatrous

    offerings, G-d rejected them. Yet the question

    remains, why did the Canaanite idol

    worshippers embrace thesingle-stone altar?

    Logically, the converse should have

    occurred: An altar of many diverse stones

    seems consistent with the polytheistic

    approach—worshipping many diverse

    gods—while an altar made of one piece is

    more reflective of the monotheistic

    Jewish faith that insists all worship

    must be directed to a single, universal

    G-d. Why did history dictate that the

    pagan polytheists embraced the

    single-stone model? Shunning

    Diversity What this prohibition against

    the single-stone pillar may be teaching

    us is that though there is one G-d, the

    altars constructed by man to serve Him

    need not—Indeed should not—be of

    one stone, of one color, or one

    dimension, shape and quality. Perhaps

    the greatest challenges facing

    humanity today is the ingrained belief by

    many a Muslim that those of us who do not

    embrace Islam as a faith and a lifestyle are

    infidels who need to be converted or killed.

    Many Muslim leaders are laying the

    groundwork for a grand war between Islam

    and the West (and of course Israel), in order

    to restore the world to its appropriate

    equilibrium, a world dominated by Islam. On

    another level, and in a far more subtle and

    fine way, one of the challenges facing many

    Jewish communities today (a challenge that

    has pervaded the history of all religion from

    the beginning of time), is a sense of tribalism

    that found a nest among many devout Jews.

    This is the feeling that my way of serving G-d

    is the only true way, and if you have a

    different path, you are on the “wrong

    team.” Many of us feel that in the

    construction of the “altars,” the

    structures in which we serve G-d, there

    is room for only a single stone, a single

    path, a particular flavor and style, to the

    exclusion of anything else that does not

    fit our religious imagination or

    upbringing. Yet, paradoxically, it is

    precisely the path of paganism and

    polytheism that invite a singular altar,

    made of one stone, while the

    monotheistic path of a singular G-d

    welcomes the diverse altar, made of

    many distinct stones. Why? Embracing

    Diversity Paganism is founded on the

    notion that a human being creates god in

    his own individual image. When G-d is

    a product of my image, that G-d is

    inevitably defined by the properties of

    that image. Since no two human images

    are identical, it follows that your god,

    the god of your image, cannot serve as

    my god as well. My god must be

    worshiped in my way, based on my

    perception of who he is and what he

    stands for. Therefore, my altar must be

    constructed of one stone: my own. The

    faith of Israel – the progenitor of

    Christianity and Islam – on the other

    hand, declares the oneness of G-d and

    the plurality of man. The transcendental

    G-d of Judaism is the G-d, who not only

    transcends the natural universe, but also

    the spiritual universe articulated in

    every single heart, and who imparts

    fragments of His truth into every human

    spirit. The challenge set forth by

    Judaism is to see G-d’s image in one

    who is not in my image. Judaism teaches that

    every person knows and feels something no

    one else does. None of us knows all the truth

    and each of us knows some of it. Like a

    symphony composed of many notes, each of

    us constitutes an individual note in the divine

    symphony, and together we complete the

    music. If G-d wanted you and me to

    experience Him and serve Him in the same

    way, one of us would be superfluous.

    Diversity within religion is not only a factor

    we must reluctantly accept; it is a cause for

    genuine celebration. It grants us the

    opportunity to encounter G-d, since it is only

    in the face of the other that we can discover

    the part of G-d that we lack in our own face.

    The result of a relationship with a

    transcendental G-d is a growing appreciation

    of people’s differences, not merely as

    tolerable, but as the essence of a rich and

    rewarding human and religious experience.

    “Diversity is the one true thing we all have in

    common, celebrate it every day,” a wise man

    once said. There is a profound truth to this:

    Diversity is the trace of an undefined G-d on

    the human species. Diverse Models of

    Worship This may be the reason the Torah

    teaches us that the altar to worship G-d must

    be constructed from many different stones.

    This represents the Jewish vision that the

    structures constructed by man to serve G-d

    ought to be diverse and individualistic. This

    does not mean that G-d condones every act

    done in His name. The G-d of the Bible

    created absolute universal standards of

    morality and ethics that bind us all. At times,

    people allow evil choices to totally eclipse the

    trace of G-d within them. To the Jewish

    people, G-d presented an absolute system of

    Torah and mitzvos. Yet within this

    framework, every human possesses his or her

    unique path to Truth. One of the great masters

    put it this way: “The concrete laws of Torah

    are the same for us all, but the spiritual

    experience of Torah, the feelings of love and

    awe, contain infinite pathways, one for each

    person, according to his individual identity.”

    We may compare it to the 88 keys of the

    piano that lend themselves to infinite

    combinations. Authentic religion must

    welcome, not fear, diversity and

    individualistic expression. When you truly

    cultivate a relationship with G-d, you know

    that in the presence of other-ness, you can

    encounter a fragment of truth that you could

    never access within your own framework.