Read a piece on Chassidus titled “Let’s Make a Choice” written by Rabbi Sholom Schapiro, the Shliach of the NY Torah Center on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
It was mealtime during a flight.
“Would you like dinner?” the flight attendant asked Max.
“What are my choices?” Max asked.
“Yes or no,” he replied.
* * *
During the Shabbat Torah reading, in addition to reading the week’s Torah portion (Parshah), we read a portion from the prophets, called the Haftorah, whose theme parallels that of the Parshah.
The Haftorah of parshat Ki Tisa tells us of at time when many Jews were idol worshipers, serving Baal, the pagan deity. But they didn’t lose their faith in G-d or renounce their ties to their Jewish heritage entirely. Instead, they felt they could do both, alternating between these two forms of worship, at times following the Torah’s guidelines, and at times reverting to paganism.
Elijah, the prophet, reproached the people: “How long will you straddle the fence? If G-d is the L-rd follow Him, and if it is Baal, then follow it.”
Then Elijah proposed a test. The prophets of Baal and Elijah would each offer a sacrifice. Whichever deity accepted his sacrifice would prove himself as the true G-d.
The people and the prophets of Baal agreed to this test, and two bulls were sacrificed. The sacrifice for Baal remained unanswered (obviously!), and the prophets of Baal were unmasked as frauds. When Elijah asked for G-d to accept his sacrifice, a fire issued forth from heaven. When the people saw this miracle, they all joined forth proclaiming in unison: “G-d is the L-rd.”
Now, the challenge that Elijah posed to the people is puzzling: How could he tell them: “If it is Baal, follow Baal”? Isn’t better for a person to be “straddling the fence” than to serve Baal entirely. Certainly, straddling the fence is not a desirable state, but for a person who is not ready to make a total commitment, it has certain advantages. He is not totally divorced from his Jewish heritage. The door is open for him at all times, and sometimes he even enters it. Why should Elijah tell such a person to abandon everything and follow Baal?
Elijah saw that as long as these people “straddled the fence” they would never be forced to face the truth and see the error of their ways. Elijah was telling them that they could not follow two paths, they must make an active choice: If you believe in G-d and that is the truth, then commit yourself to live it entirely. And if you think Baal is the truth, then follow him! Elijah knew that forced to confront this head-on, no Jew would fail to see the truth.
The Talmud tells us that in modern times, the desire for idol-worship is no longer compelling. So today “straddling the fence” is not between serving G-d or idol worship, it’s a much finer line. Today, we straddle the fence between serving G-d and other things that we may desire. Elijah is telling us: Confront the truth and make a choice. And when we’re forced to decide, we all know where the truth is.
(*Although we do not read the Haftorah of Parshat Ki Tisa this Shabbat, as we read the Haftorah of Parshat Parah, the lesson still remains.)
Dedicated in honor of Mr. Juda Chetrit for good health, Nachat, success and all blessings
Rabbi Sholom Schapiro
KOLLEL TORAH CENTER
393 Fifth Avenue, Ground Floor
New York, NY 10016