© 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 is IDOLATRY. We have a general feeling what it is. The ancients worshiped the Sun and the Moon, or Man-made statues, or other imaginary forces like demons. We know that the Bible fought against it. But what is IDOLATRY exactly? The Book of Genesis does not mention it by name. Adam was commanded against it, Noah commanded it on his children in the Rainbow Covenant, but what is it as a Law? What constitutes an idol in the context of the Commandment? And furthermore, Is it still relevant to our advanced, modern society?
In fact you wouldn’t find a definition of IDOLATRY in the Book of Genesis. You find it, the first time ever, in Moses’ Ten Commandments, meaning in the Book of Exodus. There, at the top of the two Tablets 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 First Commandment at the top of the Tablets presents the Speaker, saying “I Am Lord your GOD…” He wishes us to KNOW Him by these Names and worship Him
The Second Commandment lists the idols, whom we should worship not.
It is not enough NOT to worship Idols, it is important to worship only the True God of Israel. These are two sides of the same coin. There is a Positive side telling us TO DO, and there is a Negative side telling us what TO DO NOT.
Having two sides, Positive and Negative, is true for all the Seven Commandments of Noah. But usually the attention is paced only on the Negative side.
Why? Because the Negative sides – The prohibitions- incur retributions, sometimes severe ones. Thus one who has committed ADULTERY should be punished by human court or by Heavens, and so would one who has violated BLOODSHED or THEFT or INJUSTICE.
Whereas a person who has failed to abide by the Positive side would disappoint God, yet would not suffer retributions.
This is why, we’ve said before. most scholars talk about the Seven Commandments only in Negative terms – what NOT TO DO. They would hardly ever speak about WHAT TO DO.
While the above holds for Noahides, the Law is different towards Israel. As a “Holy Nation and a Kingdom of Priests” (Exodus 19: 6, as an introduction to the Ten Commandments) Israel is obliged the same regarding the Negative as well as the Positive sides.
Let’s go back to our topic- IDOLATRY. Most authors (such as Maimonides) would consider only the Negative side, the PROHIBITION to worship idols. They would hardly mention the Positive side- the obligation to Know G-d by Those Names and worship only Him. Since that part, the Positive aspect. is only an “expectation” with no retributions, the authors usually skip it altogether.
Yet Noahides -aall Mankind- should know the God of Israel, His Names, and how to address Him in Blessings and Prayers. They should understand PSALMS correctly, for instance.
Let’s focus first on the “mandatory” side, the Negative side of IDOLATRY. Then we’ll turn to the Positive side.
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…”
Before we study these classical idols, let’s observe that ancient IDOLS are not with us anymore. The Monotheistic faiths – Christianity and Islam- have done a good job in that aspect. The rabbinical view is that whoever bow or cater to statues like the Buddha are only paying respect to their forefather’s faiths. They do not believe in the power of these statues, .
In that case, why should we learn about the idols mentioned in the Ten Commandments? – The answer is that we should be aware of the mistakes of the past so that we should not repeat them.
Another answer is that indeed, since the Second Commandment of Moses has become almost obsolete, Noahides should climb up and focus on the First, Positive aspect of the Commandment, namely on the Believe and the Knowledge of the God of Israel, This Positive has indeed surfaced as the primary focus of IDOLATRY
The Negative part of IDOLATRY
As you’ll see soon, the Second of Moses’ Ten Commandment carries ALL THE POSSIBLE IDOLS IN THE WORLD! Let’s discuss them one by one. .
1: “You shall not have for yourself…”
Do not adapt an existing idol for yourself (Rashi), It means: in ancient time (and even today) most Israelites who worshipped idols did so not from conviction but rather from a desire to get close to other nation, i.e. for secondary gains. The “evil kings of Israel” for instance worshipped Canaanite deities because they sought military and political alliances with mighty nations. Moses recognizes that danger and warns about it at the forefront..
2: “Other Gods…
Do not worship any god even “Side by Side” with the true God of Israel. It was quite common to accept the God of Israel, besides other ancient gods. At Abraham’s time for instance the king of Jeru-Salem named Malki Tsedek greeted Abraham saying “Blessed is Abraham to the Supreme El” (Genesis 14: 18). Hence, he believed in Abraham’s God but only as a “Supreme,” inferring he also believed in other, inferior gods (Abarbanel)
This prohibition includes the belief in God’s Family, like wife, mother, son , daughter.
3: “Over My Face…”
Do not “Shame me” by your idolatry. For instance- when Israel followed idols, we shamed our Savior. Another aspect: Do not enrage me” (“Face” is Rage.) Anther aspect: “While I exist” – meaning “eternal.” Another aspect: “Do not worship other god even as My Front,” taking them as “ God’s Councilors”.
4: “Thou shall not make for yourself any image or statues…”
Do not make for yourself statues or images – even without worshipping them (debate in the Talmud). Do not place Venus in your backyard even as a decoration. We are moving here to Man-made starts and images.
5: “Of anything in the Heavens above and in the Earth underneath…”
Do not worship natural entities like Celestial Bodies, Mountains, Oceans, Trees, Animals.
6: “You shall not bow…”
Do not bow your head, kneel on the ground, prostrate on the ground before any deity. Be it an object or a PERSON
7: “Nor serve them…”
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 line 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.