Today, you won’t find anyone who doesn’t have some concept of the Ten Commandments… thanks to Cecil B DeMille. Thus, it behooves us to examine these famous top ten rules of life, attempting to gain the clarity of understanding that even Technicolor cannot offer.
year I wrote about the Fifth Commandment - Honoring Your Father and Mother -
in an attempt to please my parents. This we’ll examine the Second
Commandment - the prohibition against idolatry (see Exodus 20:3-6).
has many faces. There are five distinct prohibitions against it in our parsha.
They are: 1) not believing in any gods apart from our Creator, Blessed Be
He; 2) not fashioning idols; 3) not bowing down, offering sacrifices,
burning incense or pouring wine libations to a false god; 4) not worshiping
a false god in the manner it is served by its adherents; 5) not sculpting a
human form or drawing pictures of the sun, moon or stars.
worship hasn’t exactly been capturing headlines lately. It’s seen a
decline over the past two thousand years among all groups except teenagers
and twenty-somethings. Young’uns like to rebel for a while, usually until
they have to start making a living. I myself investigated Taoism back in
public high school (before I ever
studied Torah). I abandoned my search when I realized my interest had
more to do with trying to look cool than any depth I was discovering
perusing my paperback Tao Te Ching. (Besides,
it wasn’t helping me look cool. I probably would’ve done better with an
sages inform us that there is actually a deeper motive for idol worship than
getting back at our parents. “Israel
always knew that there was nothing to idolatry. They only worshiped idols in
order to permit public immorality” (Tractate Sanhedrin 63a). Idol worship sometimes comes with a big
philosophy, but our sages saw through all that hot air, recognizing that
those who shun G-d’s Law do so in order to release themselves from the
restrictions of morality, freeing their passions to any expression. Today we
call this rationalization.
I once heard Rabbi Refson, Dean of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women, describe how this works. Some guy wants to have an affair, but he doesn’t want his conscience bothering him. So he opens up a book on world religions. Which one permits adultery? He goes down the list. Judaism? No. Islam? No. Christianity? Only for Presidents. Finally his finger finds Ba’al Pe’or, a bizarre idolatrous cult from Biblical times. Ba’al Pe’or is pro-adultery. That’s his new religion.
of course, most people don’t find it necessary to formally switch to idol
worship to permit their many desires. The authority of religion has become
watered down enough that many don’t find faith particularly constraining,
even as they remain card-carrying members. In modern society, idolatry has
been largely supplanted by apathy. Who can say which is the greater ill?)
turning away from G-d (or simply never approaching Him in the first place)
is often motivated by the lure of a free lifestyle, we occasionally observe
enmity towards religion in a person of high moral character, who holds true
to a high moral standard. How can we understand this?
people cling to moral behavior because deep down they know it’s right. G-d
plants in us an intuitive sense of right and wrong. (It’s just easy for
this sense to get confused.) Why then do they shun religion if they’re
planning on doing the right thing anyway? Because they don’t want to feel obligated
to act morally. Call this the “extra
credit syndrome”. It’s easier for us to do the right thing when we
don’t feel forced to, like we’re performing above and beyond the call of
duty. We’re comfortable as long as we maintain an escape hatch.
does the drive to worship idols come from? What’s the benefit? Rav Simcha
Wasserman ob”m explains that idol worshipers are looking for a deal - a
deal that’s too good to be true. Someone walks into a department store and
asks to see some watches. The watch he likes costs $2000. That’s more than
he wants to spend. So he leans over to the salesclerk and whispers an offer
of $200 under the counter to secretly slip him the watch. This guy doesn’t
want to deal with the owner of the store. If he talks to the owner he’ll
have to pay $2000. That’s the real price. So he avoids the boss, dealing
with a clerk, hoping to cut a better deal.
idol worshiper doesn’t want to deal with the Creator of the Universe. G-d’s
price is too high. Idolaters worship the sun or the moon or the clouds or
whatever spiritual force they think will cut them a better deal without the
Boss catching wind. This is the opposite of what spirituality is supposed to
be. True spirituality is serving our Creator. Confused spirituality is
trying to manipulate our Creator to serve us. That is the essence of idol
make no mistake about it, the ancient drive to worship idols was an
expression of spiritual longing. So too its hip contemporary counterpart -
New Age (soon to be superceded by New
and Improved Age). We all have spiritual longings. When we’re young,
before we find our place in the world, we feel them more strongly. As we
age, habit fills up most of our time. But we still feel those yearnings
sometimes. A famous Midrash
teaches that our souls in this world are like a princess married to a
villager. As much as the villager loves his wife, the princess, showering
her with gifts, she still longs to return to the palace. Nothing in the
village, no matter how nice, can compare with the splendor and majesty of
Our souls are longing for the Palace. We all feel this longing, sometimes. We must satisfy it with that which it is really seeking. There are many temporary substitutes available. Idol worship used to be a popular replacement. Today, we have many more options. But none of them will ever satisfy the princess. She’ll always desire more. The Second Commandment charges us: accept no imitations! G-d gave us the real thing: Himself and His Torah. That’s the story of our parsha. A royal decree for a noble nation.
In February, STEP Goes Back To
This Dvar Torah page created and hosted courtesy of OU.ORG. No responsibility for its contents may be implied or taken by the OU