“Contemporary Idolatry”


In this week’s parasha, parashat Eikev, Moses, just days before his demise, continues his final oration to the People of Israel, and conveys his message of encouragement to the nation as they stand ready to enter the Promised Land.

The formula for success for the people is unambiguous. In return for observing and performing all the commandments of the Torah, the covenant and the kindness that G-d swore to bestow upon the forefathers, will be conferred upon the present and future generations.

Not only will the people achieve material success, G-d will also bless the fruit of their wombs and the fruit of the land. By following this formula, Israel will be the most blessed of all people. G-d will remove all illness from His people, and devour all their enemies. If the people only abide by the directives of the Torah, G-d promises to deliver the enemy kings into Israel’s hands. No man will be able to stand up against G-d’s people.

However, there is a quid pro quo. In Deuteronomy 7:16, G-d sternly warns, וְלֹא תַעֲבֹד אֶת אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, כִּי מוֹקֵשׁ הוּא לָךְ, You shall not worship their [alien] gods, for they are a snare for you.

For added security, Moses reminds the people to burn all the carved images of the Canaanite gods. The Israelites are forbidden to covet or to take for themselves the silver and gold that adorns the idols, lest they be ensnared by it. It is an abomination of the L-rd your G-d (Deuteronomy 7:24-25).

In Deuteronomy 7:26, Moses continues his admonition by boldly demanding in G-d’s name, וְלֹא תָבִיא תוֹעֵבָה אֶל בֵּיתֶךָ וְהָיִיתָ חֵרֶם כָּמֹהוּ, שַׁקֵּץ תְּשַׁקְּצֶנּוּ וְתַעֵב תְּתַעֲבֶנּוּ, כִּי חֵרֶם הוּא, And you shall not bring an idolatrous abomination into your home, lest you become cursed like them; you shall surely loathe them and you shall surely abominate them, for it is a cursed thing.

The commentators explain, that only the idols themselves are forbidden, but not the ornaments. However the Torah admonishes that any benefits from the idols whatsoever, are strictly forbidden.

The Sefer Ha’Chinuch explains that because of greed, Jews would not easily part with the silver, gold and jewels that adorn the idols. The warning must be reiterated because the people would not otherwise have the spiritual strength to cast the precious jewels aside and would eventually be ensnared in the practice of idolatry itself.

Maimonides explains that a person who takes an idol home may suddenly experience good fortune, and attribute the success to the idol. That coincidence may very well lead to idolatry and idol-worship.

I have frequently noted, that although we Jews reside in a most benevolent country, it is important to recognize that the United States is a Christian country. The average Jew knows well the words to the popular Christmas song, “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly,” but has no clue of the words of the Chanukah hymn, “Ma’oz Tzur.” Most Jews know who was the mother of Jesus, but have no idea who was the mother of Moses. For many Jewish people, the so-called “melting-pot of America,” has become a virtual “melt-down.” Secular and Christian values permeate the lives of all Americans without our even recognizing it.

I recall being invited to a UJA meeting that was held in a fancy private Manhattan home. The topic of discussion was announced as, “The Dangers to the Jewish Community of Assimilation and Intermarriage.” For highly identified and involved Jews, the hosts of that evening had a most unusual hobby: they collected little statues of Buddha. Hundreds of Buddhas in glass cases adorned the room and surrounded the guests. To this day, I still wonder if I was the only one present who felt odd and uncomfortable. The verse about not bringing an abomination into one’s home immediately flashed in my mind.

While the biblical verse may be referring to ancient idols of Ba’al Pe’or and Ba’al Zevuv, the same ancient text resounds loudly and clearly today. It is not that much of a stretch to say that the ancient abominations have their counterparts in contemporary society. Not only do we bring abominations into our homes regularly by subscribing to cable TV and the internet, we even invite the providers to drop off their garbage in our home, for which we reward them quite handsomely.

Unfortunately, very often, we pay a much larger “price” than just the monthly costs of these services: The impact on our families and our values, is profound.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev suggested that this verse may also refer to the types of people whom we allow in our homes. Welcoming haughty and nasty people into our home is similar to bringing an abomination into our home.

As the Bible says (Deuteronomy 23:15), וְהָיָה מַחֲנֶיךָ קָדוֹשׁ, May your encampments be holy.

May you be blessed.