23. Know Your CREATOR, Know Yourself and Know the Difference
The IDOLATRY Commandment in Eden
by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
1: Is IDOLATRY still relevant?
We start learning about the First Noahide Commandment, IDOLATRY. As we said last class, it was given to ADAM and Eve in Eden, among the ‘Six Primordial Commandments’: IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT, JUSTICE, BLASPHEMY. At the end of these classes you’ll know them by heart,
Is IDOLATRY still relevant?
Before we plunge into the study of IDOLATRY, we should ask: Is it still relevant to our lives?
The following story depicts the issue. Several years ago when I published my first book about IDOLATRY, I sent the manuscript to the publisher for reviewing. Who will be interested in this? Who would buy your book?”
And I am happy to admit that in one aspect she was right. We don’t’ worship idols of wood and stone anymore, nor do we bow to the Sun and the Moon and all the Celestial bodies. The prophet of Israel has eradicated this sort of foolishness from the human mind. Even nations in the Far East who apparently still worship their idols, are only carrying their parental tradition. They do not believe anymore in their idols’ power.
Moreover, the young editor was right in the public’s declining interest in IDOLATRY. The ancients used to converse much about their idols. They used to exchange notes at bonfire and by the dinner tables. Strangers used to tell each other about their different deities. “Tell me about your god: What do you do for it? How do you worship it? And I’ll tell you about mine.” The Pantheon was large and a person could adopt or choose idols as pleased. This sort of passion for IDOLATRY is passé. So the young editor was right: Who would buy my book?
Yet we do have our own modern idols. What is an idol, after all, if not something or someone that we adore and worship, instead of our true CREATOR?
Do we not surrender our lives to drug and alcohol?
Do not enthrone on us certain political parties or their leaders or their philosophies?
Do we not pursue wealth and power?
Do we not adore Science and Technology, believing they can solve all our problems?
Do we not pursue Art, forgetting morality?
Do we not worship our ‘self’ instead of our CREATOR?
Hence in that aspect, the cute young editor was wrong. IDOLATRY TO ITS KIND is very much with us. They study of IDOLATRY is very much relevant to our modern life.
2: IDOLATRY in the Garden of Eden
What Constitutes IDOLATRY?
As we’ve said, Adam received it in Eden. Then Adam ‘carried’ the obligation to Earth. In Eden IDOLATRY meant one thing, and on Earth it has taken on a different connotation.
What did IDOLATRY mean to Adam in Eden?
Surely Adam and Eve would not carve out statues of wood and stone in Eden and worship them. Surely they would not bow in Eden to the Sun and the Moon and worship them. They lived too close to the CREATOR to make such a gross mental error.
But they could violate IDOALTRY in one way only: by disobeying G-d’s Command.
Let’s recall that when the CREATOR formed the Adam in Eden from dust, it says:
“And He (G-d) commanded on the Adam, saying: from all the Tree of the Garden you can eat, but from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you should not eat, since on the day that you eat it you’ll die!”
Here the words “Commanded on the Adam” are superfluous. The Rabbis saw that as a hint for giving Adam the Six Commandments. Foremost among them was IDOLATRY, which simply says: Listen to your CREATOR’S Commands. Then G-d ‘filled’ the IDOLATRY Commandment with content by saying: “From this Tree you should not eat.”
Listen to me!
Let’s note that this was not an ADVICE, but rather a COMMAND.
Who may issue a Command? Someone with authority. Hence in Eden the CREATOR ‘commanded’ on Adam not only as his MAKER, but also as his FATHER in HEAVENS and his KING, or “The KING OF THE UNIVERSE.”
Note that when we attribute KINGSHIP to G-d we don’t mean to say that He wears a golden crown or ride a beautiful horse. We rather say that He is not an aloof CREATOR but also its King who is interested in his KINGDOM and runs it day and night. He is Our KING who conducts our lives.
Hence the notion of IDOLATRY is intertwined by the notions that He is
who gives us Commandments.
The most primordial specific Command of the FATHER-KING to Adam (and us) was “Thou shall not eat from the fruits of this Tree of Knowledge.”
Indeed, on Rosh Hashanah, when we celebrate Adam’s creation, we refer to G-d as “Our FATHER, OR KING” (avinu makleinu.) On no other day of the year we would use that title in our prayers.
Hence we follow in our study ideas embedded in mainstream Judaism. We do not use esoteric teachings in our classes.
The only commandment relevant to Eden
Note that in Eden, before the advent of Eve, Adam could have not violated any of the Commandments besides IDOLATRY in its most basic form.
He could not violate ADULTERY without Eve around.
He could not violate BLOODHSED with no other humans around.
He could not violate THEFT without private ownership of many other individuals.
He could not violate INJUSTICE without society.
He could not commit BLASPHEMY while living so close to G-d.
But he could, and did, violate IDOATRY by disobeying the CREATOR-FAHTER-KING Commandment and eat from the forbidden fruit.
Once Eve was born, she could and did commit also ADULTERY by cohabiting with the cunning, sexual attractive Serpent.
IDOALTRY underlies all the Commandments. Whenever we transgress any of G-d’s commandment we violate IDOALTRY as well.
3: IDOLATRY through the Book of Genesis
So far we learned about the basic notions of IDOLATRY from the story of Eden. In Eden, IDOALTRY meant: Listen to your FATHER and KING. But IDOALTRY is more than that. Yet nowhere in the Book of Genesis IDOALTRY is spelled out in details. It is there, of course, operating behind the scene, but nowhere described in the text. Adam knew it, Enosh knew it, Noah knew it, Abraham knew it, and so did Isaac and Jacob and all the righteous people. They all knew it and fought against it. Abraham even sacrificed his life in order to eradicate it. But what are the details of IDOLATRY?
Only in the Book of Exodus it appears again in the text, when G-d gives Israel the Ten Commandments.