Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

Lofty mountains, luxuriant trees

In Deuteronomy 12:2, God gives the final instructions to the children of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. In this verse, particular attention is paid to the utter obliteration of any trace of idolatry, practiced by soon-to-be wiped out inhabitants of Canaan.

“You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains and hills or under any luxuriant tree.”. Talmud discusses this verse in Avodah Zarah 45a as follows,

“Rabbi Akiva says: I will explain and decide the matter before you. The verse does not indicate limitations to the halakhic definition of idols; rather, it is simply giving indicators of prevalent idolatrous practice: Everywhere that you find a high mountain, or an elevated hill, or a leafy tree, know that there is idol worship there.”

It seems like Rabbi Akiva was a bit carried away here. Not every lofty place or a leafy tree necessarily hosts an idol-worshipping site, but one must think beyond the surface. These signposts describe not only the geographical landmarks. God is giving us here the blueprint of the places idolatry can hide in.

The idols are sometimes presented as lofty and honorable goals, seducing us by their beauty. When our pursuit of something above us or our yearning for peace yields no fruits, we are left with an emptiness inside.

Idols can masquerade themselves in many disguises but, however attractive they are they remain a hindrance on our way to the Torah life.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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