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V'etchanan(Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

Ban on Idolatry

At the end of World War Two, Winston Churchill was asked if he was concerned about how historians would view his role in the war. He replied that he wasn't the least bit concerned, saying that, "history shall be kind to me, for I shall write it." Ultimately, Churchill's words came true; his history of World War Two became one of the most popular books on the subject.

The attempt to shape and influence events is part and parcel of the human saga. All of us want to be players in the game of life. But while we can in fact influence events, we cannot control their final outcome. Ultimately, all is in the hands of the Almighty.

A central focus of this week's Torah portion, V'etchanan, is the ban on idolatry. The Israelites are absolutely forbidden from worshiping or even making graven images. They should not intermarry with the surrounding nations lest they be drawn after their idolatrous ways. Jews are forbidden not only from making likenesses of other gods, but Jews may not even make an image which symbolically represents God Himself. This stricture is so great that a Jew should rather die than participate in pagan worship.

Why is idolatry seen as such a severe transgression? Some commentators see the Torah's stricture against making a graven image as a preventive law, to avoid the possibility that people will mistakenly come to worship this image as God Himself. The Ibn Ezra notes that our relationship with the Almighty is direct - without any intermediaries. The use of an image - even as a mere symbol to represent the Divine - would constitute an intermediary and is thus forbidden.

The commentators give another reason for the Biblical disdain of idolatry: It is perversion of the metaphysical order. Judaism teaches that we must subordinate our will to the Almighty's will. The nature of pagan worship is just the opposite. It is an attempt to influence and ultimately control spiritual forces. Jewish tradition says our purpose in this world is to achieve moral growth by emulating the Almighty's behavior - not to influence spiritual forces into helping meet our own egotistical desires.

In other words: Idolatry is wrong because it is false! A graven image is an inanimate object incapable of accomplishing anything. There is nothing "real" behind the wood and stone. Compare this to the Almighty Who is responsive to one's needs and holds the keys to all success and failure. Says the Talmud: "The seal of God is Truth."

Similarly, revisionist history is the wrong approach. We cannot escape "reality" with the stroke of a pen. So too with the Creator of the universe. We must strive not to fashion God in our own image, but rather to fashion ourselves in the image of God.

Published: January 16, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 6

(4) Anonymous, July 31, 2012 1:45 PM

How do you explain the Christians

I have always believed that Jews and Christians all believe in the same G-d, that of Abraham, Isaak, Jacob. they just got a little of track and view G-d in 3 parts. I've always tried to look at the commonalities. Now, I find over the last 15 years that the belief in G-d as a man, or in any form, is one of the worst sins. Some, in order to explain Christianity have said that Christianity is to prepare the non-Jews for the coming of Mashiach. If this is such a grave sin, 1) why would G-d allow so many to follow this path 2) why not show them the truth 3) why not have them be lead to Judaism 4) or why not have them be Noahides and 5) Why do we stand around as Jews, not prostheletise and encourage Judaism or at least teach Truth to non-Jews? We are very busy taking care of the souls of Jews (I know there is a lot of work to be done) but what about the rest of the world?

Edwin Hissink, August 4, 2012 8:23 PM

Exactly the words from my heart

I am catholic, but recently came to the conclusion, that believing in G-d as if three persons is not right. I started to pray the Shema Israel, as I believe G-d is one and the concept of the three is not from Devine origin, but a human concept. Now,I wished I was one of the chosen people but that cannot be. I am a non-Jew.

Gwen, July 17, 2013 3:04 AM

anyone can become Jewish

You don't have to be born a Jew to become one. I wasn't and now I am. But our sages also teach that all righteous people have a share in the world to come...you don't have to be Jewish. Good luck

(3) Jong, July 24, 2010 11:13 AM

Powerful

It is a great reminder about humbleness before God.

(2) Scott Granowski, July 27, 2007 5:38 PM

Fundamentals

Thank you for clarifying fundamentals. God's prescriptions are for my benefit. I do not control outcomes, but I can grow my own understanding. The most important understanding seems to be that God's Will is in my best interest and should be sought, whereas idolatry would encourage my natural propensity to think that everyone would be better off with my Will being accomplished! Really, it appears that my self-sufficiency is a form of idolatry.

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