21 August 2015

Parshat Shoftim 5775

6 Elul 5775
Erev Shabbat Kodesh

"You shall not set up a sacred post — any kind of pole beside the altar of the Lord your God that you may make —  or erect a stone pillar; for such the Lord your God detests." (Devarim 16.21)

It goes back to Am Yisrael being a holy nation - one set apart from the other nations to fulfill a unique destiny. We are forbidden to copy the ways of the gentiles.

Washington Monument, Washington DC, United States – Standing just over 555 feet (169.294 meters) tall, the Washington Monument is the world’s tallest obelisk as well as the world’s tallest stone structure. Like many modern obelisks, it is not monolithic but rather composed of marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss. Construction began in 1848 and completed only in 1884. It is one of the most recognized symbols of Washington and even the United States.

Obelisk at Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City – Located in the middle of one of the most famous city squares in the world, the obelisk in Saint Peter’s square is a 4,000 years old Egyptian obelisk which was transported from Egypt to Rome during the reign of Emperor Augustus. It was moved from the circus to its current site in 1586. During the Middle Ages, the gilt ball on top of the obelisk was believed to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. However, when the ancient metal ball was removed, it was empty. This ancient monolithic obelisk is just over 25 meters tall.

Luxor Obelisk, Luxor, Egypt – Two giant obelisks once stood at the entrance of the Luxor Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site. The right one was given as a present to France during the 19th century and it now stands in the Place de la Concorde. The left obelisk still stands today at the entrance.

You can see seven more here - Ten Awesome Obelisks from Around the World.

And as you might imagine, it all hearks back to Egypt!

In 241 BC the Romans conquered Sicily in the course of their first war against Carthage. The possession of this island at the center of the Mediterranean Sea led to the first contacts with the Egyptian Empire, which was ruled by a Greek dynasty, the Lagides, after Lago a general of Alexander the Great. The Lagides are more often referred to as the Ptolemies, Ptolemy being the recurring name of their Pharaohs. The rise of Rome in the Mediterranean did not lead to confrontation with Egypt, although the internal quarrels among the members of the Egyptian dynasty gave Rome some say in the internal matters of Egypt.

In 49 BC Pompey, after his defeat at Pharsalus, sought refuge in Alexandria, then the capital of Egypt, but the Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII assassinated him to ingratiate himself with Caesar. Caesar however was not pleased with the killing of his rival and took the side of Cleopatra, both sister and wife of Ptolemy in a dynastic quarrel between the two. A Roman army defeated Ptolemy in 47 BC and Cleopatra ascended the throne of Egypt. The Roman general fell in love at first sight with the Egyptian Queen and in a way it was the same for the two countries.

With the exception of Greece no other country had greater influence over the Romans and the Egyptian gods became key members of the Roman pantheon. The official iconography of the Roman Emperor, strictly defined by Augustus admitted only one exception so that the Emperor could be portrayed as an Egyptian Pharaoh to underline the continuity between the pharaohs and the emperors. In this context Augustus after having defeated Antony and Cleopatra and conquered Egypt in 30 BC brought from Heliopolis to Rome the obelisks dedicated to the Pharaohs Rameses II and Psammetichus II. Other obelisks came from Egypt or were made in Rome in the next three centuries; thirteen of them can still be seen in the streets of Rome. (Source)

So keep this in mind when when you read this week's parsha and the prohibition of erecting a stone pillar next to Hashem's altar. It's a reminder of everything that is abhorrent to Hashem!

For those who don't already know, there is a city on the coast of Israel called Caesarea after the Caesars of Rome. It was built by the Romans when they ruled over Eretz Yisrael and there they made a real Roman home for themselves which included one of these stone pillars...

In the second century CE a large facility for chariot races...was constructed in the eastern part of Roman Caesarea. This facility replaced ‘Herod’s Circus’, which was built in the western part of the city. A fallen obelisk and three conical columns made of red granite (Aswan granite) were discovered in the center of the arena in the eastern hippodrome. The obelisk was found broken, in three pieces . Due to the importance and uniqueness of the obelisk it was decided to re-erect the monument in its original location

The Caesarea obelisk is the only one of its kind known to exist within the boundaries of the State of Israel, and thus re-erecting it was an unprecedented project. A vast majority of the conservation committee approved the recommendation to re-erect the obelisk in its original location, as proposed by the IAA. (Source)

The present-day 'Roman' city is intimately connected to the Rothschild family and "is one of Israel's most upscale residential communities. The Baron de Rothschild still maintains a home in Caesarea, as do many business tycoons from Israel and abroad," and including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.