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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, accomplishments
    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 parsha, Shoftim, communicates
    the following interesting commandment:
    “You shall not erect for yourself a pillar; this is
    something which the Lord your G-d despises.”
    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 for Divine
    worship, where offerings would be presented
    to G-d.
    Though the Torah elsewhere allows the
    existence of altars made of stone in the Beit
    Hamikdash in Yerushalayim and in the
    Mishkan in the desert, Rashi explains that this
    is only true of altars comprised of many
    stones, not of a single stone.
    But what’s the logic? Does it 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, our forefathers built
    single stone pillars for Divine service, and “it
    was beloved by G-d.” However, once the
    Canaanites adopted this practice and began
    building single-stone altars for idolatrous
    offerings, including the horrific practices of
    ancient idolatry, G-d rejected them.
    But why? Just because some tribes used the
    single stone for idolatry, can’t we use it in a
    productive and meaningful way? The Pagans
    would also worship the sun, the moon, or
    water, but we still use them and enjoy them in
    a beneficial way.

    Embracing 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 the
    human being to serve Him should not, and
    could not be of one stone, of one color,
    dimension, shape and quality.
    In paganism, or modern atheism, a human
    being creates a god, or some higher power, in
    his or her own individual image. My mind and
    ego define what is essential, and what is of
    supreme importance. When god is a product
    of my image, that god 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. My altar must be
    constructed of one stone: my own.
    Sure, I will tolerate those people and views
    that my “image” of my god can make peace
    with. But if you step out of line, I will hunt
    you down. I have no genuine room for your
    The faith of Judaism, the idea of Monotheism,
    declares the oneness of G-d and the plurality of
    man. The transcendental G-d of Judaism
    transcends the natural universe but also any
    spiritual definition. G-d is undefined by
    any form, shape, or characteristic, physical
    or spiritual. We do not create Him in our
    image; He creates us in His image.
    Judaism thus challenges me to see G-d’s
    image in the one who is not in my image,
    for every person knows and feels
    something about reality, about truth, about
    G-d that 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.
    True Religion Celebrates Diversity
    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
    “Diversity is the one true thing we all
    have in common, celebrate it every day,” a
    wise man once said. Diversity is the trace
    of an undefined G-d on the human species.
    One of the greatest challenges facing
    humanity today is the ingrained belief by
    many Muslims that those of us who do not

    embrace Islam as a faith and a lifestyle are
    infidels who need to be converted or killed.
    On another level, and in a far more subtle
    and fine way, one of the challenges facing
    many communities today (a challenge that has
    pervaded the history of all religions from the
    beginning of time), is a sense of tribalism that
    found a nest among many devout Jews. My
    way of serving G-d is the only true way, and if
    you have a different path, you are on the
    “wrong team.” I can’t respect you.
    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, one flavor, and one style — to the
    exclusion of anything else that does not fit our
    religious imagination or upbringing. Yet,
    paradoxically, it is precisely the paths of
    paganism, polytheism, or atheism, 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. The structures constructed by man to
    serve G-d are, by definition, diverse and
    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. But these
    rules do not step from my ego and comfort
    zone, but rather from an absolute truth that
    includes and benefits every human being.
    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 (or her) individual identity.”
    We may compare it to the 88 keys of the
    piano that lend themselves to infinite
    combinations. The very same keys allow for
    so many different expressions. Authentic
    religion must welcome, not fear, diversity, and
    individualistic expression. When you truly
    cultivate a relationship with G-d, a G-d who is
    undefined by any image or color, you know
    that in the presence of otherness, you can
    encounter a fragment of truth that you could
    never access within your own framework.