© 2020 by Rabbi Dr. Zvi Aviner
Torah Class IDOLATRY-1/
The List Of All Possible Idols
Know your CREATOR, know yourself, and k now the difference
Having discussed the Seven Laws of Noah as a group, let’s study them one by one.
The first Commandment of Noah is IDOLATRY. It is a Negative Commandment, telling what NOT to do. (In that sense it does no differ from the rest of the Seven Commandments- they are all Negative ones.) But what is IDOLATRY, exactly? We know that Noah struggled against it, Abraham fought it, but nowhere does the Book of Genesis defines it.
In fact, the first time the Commandment appears in the text is in the Ten Commandments of Sinai, in the Book of Exodus. There it says – :
2: The IDOLATRY Commandments in Moses’ Ten Commandments
The First of the Ten Commandments
”I Am the LORD your GOD
Who took you out of Egypt land.”
The Second of the Ten Commandments)
”Thou shall not have another G-d, over my face,
“Thou shall not make yourself any carved statue or any image
of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath,
and in the waters that are under the Earth.
Thou shall not bow to them and shall not serve them…” (Exodus 20:1)
As you see, the Second of the Ten Commandment gives the list of the idols, whom we should worship NOT
While the First of the Ten Commandments presents the Speaker- GOD- whom we should know and worship.
The Second Commandment of Sinai – carrying the list of idols – is a Negative one, telling us what NOT to do. It is the classical IDOLATRY Commandment, carrying harsh retributions.
The First of the Ten Commandment is a Positive one, telling us what TO DO.
Hence It is not enough to avoid worshiping Idols. It is no less important- or even more important to know and worship the True God of Israel. These two Commandments are in fact the two sides of the same coin. .
Here is a difference between Israel and Noahides.
To Israel, both sides of the coin are OBLIGATIONS, whose observance is MANDATORY.
To all other nations of the world, only the Negative aspect is mandatory, that carries retributions from Heavens. The Positive aspect , in contrast, is only EXPECTED and REWARDED , yet not obligated. .
.This simply means that Israel it treated more harshly. And that principle holds true for almost all of GOD’s Commandments.
Let’s focus first on the Negative part- the list of idols in the Second of the Ten Commandments
3: The list of all possible idols
. (Moses’ Second of the Ten Commandments)
1. “Thou shall not have for yourself
2. “Other Gods
3. “Over my face
4. “Thou shall not make for yourself any image or statues
5. “Of anything in the Heavens above and in the earth below….
6. “Thou shall not bow to them
7. “Nor serve them…”
This miraculous Commandment of Moses lists all the possible types of idol worshiping in the world. But before we analyse them one by one, let’s observe that most pf these idols are not with us anymore, thank goodness. The Monotheistic faiths that sprung out of Judaism- Christianity and Islam – have changed the world. Most people today do not believe in the ancient idols anymore. The rabbinical view is that those who still bow or cater today to idols- such as you see the Far East – are only paying respect to their forefather’s religions and cultures. .
If so, the emphasis has moved from the Negative part to the First part. If the Nations of the world have discarded their forefather’s idolatry, they should climb up on the ladder of faith and fulfill also the First, Positive aspect of KNOWING the GOD of Israel, the Speaker of the Ten Commandments.
4: The types of Idols
As you’re about to see, Moses lists ALL THE POSSIBLE IDOLS IN THE WORLD! Let’s discuss them one by one. .
1: “You shall not have for yourself…”
It means- Do not adapt an existing idol for yourself (Rashi). In ancient time (and even today) most people sought alliance and friendship by adopting other people’s idols and customs. It was done for “secondary gains.” For instance- the wicked kings of Israel adopted the Canaanite idols for military and political gains. Moses, recognizing that threat, has placed this prohibition at the top. ..
2: “Other Gods…
It means- Do not worship any god even “alongside” the GOD d of Israel. In ancient times, and even today, people accept the God of Israel, in addition to their own deities. For instance- on Abraham it is said that when he won a major war (where he released abducted people) he was greeted by Malki-Tsedek the King of Salem. The king said- “Blessed is Abraham to the Supreme El” (Genesis 14: 18). Most commentaries say that as a disciple of Abraham, the king believed in El, the GOD of Abraham, but only as a “Supreme,” inferring that he also believed in other, inferior gods
Note that “Other Gods” here prohibit the believe in GOD’S putative Family, like His wife, His mother, His son , His daughter etc.
3: “Over My Face…”
It means- Do not worship idols that “cover my face” or are thought to shield me. Do not worship the Sun and the Moon even as GOD’s Councillors. Do not “shame me” or kindle my anger by your idolatry. Anther aspect: “While I exist” – meaning “eternal.” Do not think that there is anything eternal but eh GOD of Israel.
4: “Thou shall not make for yourself any image or statues…”
It means- Do not worship any man made statues or images. Don’t even make them, without worshiping them (debate in the Talmud). For instance- do not make or place a statue of Venus or Athens or Neptune in your backyard, not even as a decoration. .
5: “Of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath…”
It means- Do not worship images and statues of any force in Nature- such as Celestial Bodies, Impressive Mountains, Oceans, Gorgeous Trees, Powerful Animals.
6: “You shall not bow…”
It means- Do not bow your head, kneel , prostrate on the ground before any deity, be it an object or a PERSON
7: “Nor serve them…”
It means- Do not serve an idol according to its own customs. And worst: Do not apply the ways you worship the GOD of Israel towards an idol. For instance: Do not chant Psalms for an idol. (This prohibition is punishable by death when done by an Israelite)
Remember- each topic here is a large headline, requiring much elaboration and analysis.
4: IDOLATRY path in History
Maimonides looks at the above list and says that it is not incidental. It follows the spiritual downfall of Mankind in history. How? –
At first, Mankind (Adam and Eve) believed in the True God. Then Adam’s grandson Enosh started IDOLATRY. On Enosh it is said, “ it was then that they began desecrating the LORD’S Name” (Genesis 4: 26).
Few words about Enosh. As Adam’s grandson, he is described as a natural miracle. At the advanced age of 1000 years he was as viable and strong and beautiful as a young person of 30. He was a charismatic orator, the best that Mankind ever known. He had numerous wives and his seeds filled the Earth. In short, he was the father of Mankind.
Enosh preached that God is everywhere, inside everything, inside every leaf, stone, tree. Hence he prayed to God “through the leaf” or “through the stone.” He prayed to the Sun because God is inside it or behind it.
The result was that his disciples first copied him but then erred to pray to the leaves, sn and the moons believing in their own power. They saw the Sun and the Moon “Side by Side” with God, then as God’s Shields or God’s Councilors underneath Him.
Then they forgot God and prayed to the Sun and the Moon and other natural force themselves.
Then they made statues and images and worshipped them. They worshipped demons, spirits, animals and their statues.
Thus Moses’ list follows the historical downfall of Mankind into IDOLATRY.
Now having discussed the Negative side, let’s move to the important,, Positive aspect of the Commandment – to Know the Speaker by His Names and Actions.