A Taste of Torah – Parshas Yisro

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

The second commandment that Hashem gave us at Har Sinai is the prohibition of idolatry. The Torah refers to idols as אלהים אחרים, other gods. Rashi is bothered by this description since it implies that there are other deities aside from Hashem. If Hashem is the only deity, how could there be “other gods.” Rashi presents two possible meanings to the term אלהים אחרים.

  • It means “the gods of others,” deities that other people have taken for themselves.
  • It should be translated as “gods that are indifferent to their worshippers.” Since these gods have no power, they cannot and do not respond to those who worship them.

In today’s world, we think that the prohibition of idolatry is not much of an issue for us. Much of the world is monotheistic (or atheistic), but there are a few people around us who still bow to images of wood and stone. The truth is that idolatry is a stand-in for any vice or moral weakness that we embrace that detracts from our relationship with G-d. Our sages compare anger, deceit and arrogance to idolatry. These moral deficiencies disrupt our inner connection and dialogue with Hashem.

We can use Rashi’s explanations of the term אלהים אחרים to expand this idea. Many vices are the result of external influences. We follow other people’s bad behaviors. We seek to impress others. We think we deserve what others have and that makes us behave immorally. These are the “gods of others,” forces in our lives that we have engaged as a result of our interaction with others. The second part is true as well. These “gods” are indifferent to us when we seek to engage them . They are unproductive and self-destructive. We think they empower us and will get us ahead when, in fact, they set us back and destroy our lives.

We use the Torah as a guide for successful living. It helps us overcome the self-deceptive reasoning that ensnares and ruins us. When we take the view that the Torah is a moral work and not only a “book of laws,” we will have happy and successful lives.