Rabbi D. Zvi Aviner
IDOLATRY -1/ Idolatry stated in Moses’ Ten Commandments
LAST class we discussed Noah’s Seven Commandments as a group. Today we start examining them one by one, according to their list
We begin with Noah’s First Commandment – IDOLATRY.
Since IDOLATRY was given to Adam and Eve in Eden, Noah knew about it, Abraham gave his life fighting against it, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph knew about it, and yet it does not appear as an explicit Commandment in the Book of Genesis.
The first place where it does appear explicitly, is in the Ten Commandments of Sinai, where G-d says (Exodus 20: 1-5)
The First of the Ten Commandments of Sinai:
(1) I Am
(2) The Lord (Y*H*V*H) your G-d (EeLoHiM)
(3) Who took you out of Egypt land…
The Second of the Ten Commandments
(1) Thou shall have no other gods
(2) besides me (over my face)
(3) Thou shall not make for yourself any carved idol
or any image of anything that is in the Heavens above
or that is in the Earth beneath, or in the waters under the Earth
(4) thou shall not bow down to them
(5) nor serve them …
Some say that since the Ten Commandments are a “Love Letter” from G-d to Israel, no one but Israel should open it and read it. It is specifically aimed at Israel.
Yet we have rule, set up by the Talmud, saying that “every Commandment given to Noah and repeated by Moses to Israel, applies to both Noahides and Israel.”
The IDOLATRY Commandment is a good example. It was first given to Adam and Noah, then to Israel, therefore it applies to the Nations and Israel. Noahides can and should learn about IDOLATRY from the Ten Commandment, like Israel.
There are a few differences, though, between Noahides and Israel in regard to the IDOLATRY Command. Israel should be more stringent about it and more careful.
Israel would also incur harsher retributions for violating IDOLATRY. As a “nation of priests” – teachers – Israel is more liable
But in principle, all Mankind are expected to abide by the IDOLATRY prohibition.
So where are the idols mentioned in the Ten Commandments? /
The two Commandments on the top of the tablets
The First Commandments of Sinai presents the Speaker, G-d, whom we should worship
The Second Commandments of Sinai presents the Idols, whom we should worship not. It lists all the idols in the world.
How are they defined?/
The idols are defined, in line 1, as “Other gods besides me”.
Linen 1 is in fact a headline. It presents the most general definition of idols. If you worship any entity “Other than” the G-d of Israel – G-d that Adam and Noah knew well – you are an idolater.
The idols, then, are defined in a negative, exclusive way – anything you might worship other than G-d. It means that you first need to know G-d precisely, then you exclude anything else. That is why Moses starts with the First Commandment on the Tablets DERFINDING THE TRUE G-D OF ISRAEL – then goes to the Second Commandment describing the idols.
The idols listed in Moses’ Second Commandment
The words in line 1: “Thou shall have no other G-d”, comprise a headline, we’ve said. But they also carry a special prohibition – “Other gods: entities perceived Side by Side with G-d, like worshipping His Family, His Wife, His Son, Uncle etc.
It was quite common in the ancient time to worship the god’s families. Pharaoh was a son of god, Augustus Cesar was a son of god, and so were Alexander the Great and Caligula. The G-d of Israel, in contrast, has no Family.
The words in line 2 – “Over my face” – refer to deities perceived as standing between G-d and us. They act like a screen that hides G-d from us.
For instance: In Enosh’ time, people prayed to G-d through the Sun and the Moon, perceived as G-d Councilors. At first, they believed in G-d as a King, thinking that it is more appropriate to approach His Councilors first. The Councilors are the screen. In time, the next generations forgot G-d altogether and turned to the Celestial Bodies themselves. This is called “Enosh’s error.” (RMBM)
This error led humanity worship impressive natural powers, like the Sea, Mountain, Volcanoes, Gorgeous trees etc. These natural deities fall under the category “idols over my face.” Nature itself is perceived as a screen between “Over my face.”
Another type of deities “Over my face” are “inferior gods” bellow G-d. For instance, Malki Zedek greeted Abraham by the words “Blessed is Abraham by the Superior G-d.” Malki Zedek was a disciple of Abraham and learned from him to believe in the True G-d, but he erred thinking that there are also “inferior gods” to be worshipped as well. This belief is IDOLATRY, yet the error is not as grave as forgetting God altogether. This is why Abraham dinned with him and shared his wine and bread with him. It is a classic example how Noahides are not scrutinized for their faith, as severely as Israel is.
Another sorts of deities “Over my face” are “intermediators” between G-d and us. We should never pray to any entity to besiege G-d in our behalf. We should never pray to an angel, to a rabbi, to a messiah or to anyone but to G-d Himself
Line 3 prohibits the worshipping of Man-made statues images. These could be statues of natural entities, like animals, or products of man’s imagination.
Line 4 prohibits the participation in the idol’s ways of worshipping.
Line 5 prohibits the worshipping of idols in the way we worship the true G-d of Israel. For instance, we should not praise the idols by singing for it David’s Psalms. We should not prostrate on the ground before an idol, as it was done for the G-d of Israel in the Holy Temple.
As we’ve said, the idols are defined in line 1 as entities “other than G-d.” It behoove us to know G-d precisely, so we could identify what is not G-d.
Let’s go now to the First of the Ten Commandments, where G-d presents Himself to Israel and to the world.