Talmidav Shel Aharon
15-5768: Mitzvah N-9 & 10
February 4, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 9 – It is a negative commandment to make no idol to worship
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “You shall not make yourself a graven image” (Ex. 20:4) If a person transgressed and made one, whether he fashioned it himself or he ordered it made, he should be given whiplashes. If he made it himself for himself, he should be given whiplashes twice (see next Mitzvah). It is in force everywhere, in every time, for both men and women.
Negative Mitzvah 10 – It is a negative commandment not to make any idol to be worshipped (by himself or anyone else), even for a heathen.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “and do not make yourselves molten gods” (Lev. 19:4) If a person transgressed and made one, he should receive whiplashes. It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
Judaism has seen itself at times as militantly anti-pagan. Idolatry is considered to be a poison, a cancer, and an addiction that can grow through a society and corrupt an entire people. The incident of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai and the incident in the book of Numbers regarding Baal-Peor (Parshat Balak) both point to the corrosive nature of paganism. Monotheism is difficult. Paganism is easy. Monotheism requires responsibility. Pagan theology promotes a lack of accountability. Judaism is about justice. Paganism is about frivolity. Since Judaism sees human beings as often taking the course of least reistance, worshiping an idol represents just about everything that Judaism opposes. Paganism cannot be allowed to continue to corrupt human values.
You may think that this is a mitzvah from a bygone era, but even in these modern times, we worship the things we have created. An idol is an object of worship that is made by human hands. Paul Tillich, the great theologian, defined faith as a state of being “Ultimately Concerned”. If the focus of our ultimate concern is less than ultimate, then it is idolatry. Idolatry is about being ultimately concerned about something that is not ultimate. This could be almost anything around us. It is one thing to love our work; it is another to worship money. It is one thing to want to relax in front of the Television; it is another if we build our live around one show or commentator. Some people can only see the value of an education as a goal, not as a means to an end. We all know people who have their priorities all messed up, putting things before family and self. Yet, even our worship of self can be idolatrous since it blinds us to the needs and concerns of others. There are those who make the trappings of Religion into objects of worship. For example, those who only see their own understanding of Biblical verses and not open their minds to other interpretations have made an idol out of the book.
An unseen, all-powerful G-d who makes demands of us and who holds us accountable for our actions in this world should be a faith that requires our full attention. Being able to choose a pagan god that fits our mood of the moment or our need to get off the hook can seem to be a lot more fun. Soon, however we find that we are either looking for new ways to get our fun or we begin to see that there is a deeper kind of enjoyment that comes from caring and concern for others and the demands that our Judaism puts upon us. There is a deeper love that comes from living a spiritual life, one not tainted by idolatry. There is a deeper fulfillment that comes with putting our faith in what is ultimate, and not clinging to every fad. We do ourselves a great harm when we fashion an idol in our lives and we need to be ever vigilant to prevent that from happening. Making the idol is bad. To worship it is worse and that will be the focus of the next two Mitzvot.