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Idol Worship, a Thing of the Past? The Ultimate Challenge!

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“God spoke all these words saying: I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. “(Exodus 20, 1-6)

The above verses are the first words that God speaks to the Israelite nation. These verses contain the basic Mitzvah of belief in God, the prohibition of recognizing or serving any other gods, the prohibition of making certain images and forms, and the prohibition of serving these images and forms. Our sages teach us that the Men of the Great Assembly (through their spiritual efforts) removed the desire for this type of blatant idol worship from the world.  Nonetheless, the words of the Torah are eternal, and it is incumbent upon us to understand how this prohibition is applicable to us in our times.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov explains that idol worship is rooted in the idea that God is not in complete and absolute control of our destinies. When we depend on anything or anyone other than God for our livelihoods, health, and security, we are essentially constructing foreign gods. Our foreign gods often include: our own intellects, our financial resources, our doctors, and our scientists. The Torah commands us to: 1) use our intellects and best judgment to make a living, 2) to look after our health and to make every effort to seek out the best possible medical interventions available, and 3) to believe that our livelihoods and health come from God alone and are completely dependent on God’s blessing. This presents the ultimate challenge. We must engage with the world around us, but never trust in it or rely on it. For this reason, before we take medicine, there is a special prayer that we recite asking God to heal us through the medicine. Similarly, we ask God to bless our handiwork and must depend on God alone.

Let us engage in the world, but let us rely upon and trust God alone—the God who creates heaven and earth, the God who is omnipotent and omnipresent. May we, in turn, merit divine blessing and salvation!