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Sin is a slippery slope. Eventually a person rationalizes that which had originally been unthinkable. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The first of this week’s “double” Torah portion is Nitzavim” (Deuteronomy 29:9–30:2). The 2 shortest Torah portions, both read this week, are just 70 verses combined.

One of the verses reads, “For you know how you lived in the Land of Egypt and how you travelled among nations whose countries you have passed through. You have seen their abominations and their detestable idols (shikutzeihem – “giluleihem) of wood and stone, of silver and gold that were with them.”

This verse is a derogatory reference to the idols which the nations that the Jewish people wandered among had worshipped. Let’s look at the description of the idols in the original Hebrew: “shikutzeihem” or “sheketz” means “disgusting,” and “giluleihem” or “galal” is often used to describe human excrement. 

It is noted that the verse begins by describing the idols with these extremely disdainful terms but then simply refers to them  as “wood” and “stone” – not too bad. Finally, they are called “silver” and “gold.” Hmmm. That actually sounds pretty nice! Who wouldn’t want some extra silver and gold hanging around the house? What’s going on over here? Why do we have three “groupings” of terminology to describe idols: horrible, neutral, and good. Which is it? 

It is explained that this verse corresponds to the thinking of a sinner. When first seeing something bad or sinful, one is usually turned off by it, not interested, and maybe even disgusted. But sadly, we get used to sin. When we see people doing terrible things, it is usually only revolting the first few times. After awhile, we become somewhat immune to the immorality and all the “alternative” lifestyles all around us. No longer “excrement” but rather “neutral,” like “wood” and “stone.” And sometimes, sadly, these deviations become the norm.

Heck, sometimes people find themselves defending and supporting such craziness – “silver” and “gold.” Yes, more often than not, people get used to things. Even bad things.  

This is exactly how the “yetzer hara,” the evil inclination, works. As the Talmud says, “This is the way of the evil inclination: Today it tells us to do this-and-that. Tomorrow it tells us to do some more of this-and-that. Eventually, we will find ourselves in idolatry and other terrible sins.” Sin is a slippery slope. Eventually a person rationalizes that which had originally been unthinkable.

The message is clear. We cannot allow ourselves to become accepting of the unacceptable or immune to spiritual diseases. Remember: if it was ever excrement, it always will be excrement. 

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.