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Avodah Zarah (Idolatry)

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

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I. Introduction. 1

II. What is avodah zarah (idolatry)?. 3

III. The end of the drive to idolatry. 3

IV. Astrology as avodah zarah. 8

V. Conclusion. 8


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I. Introduction


In this study I would like to examine avodah zarah[1] (idolatry).


What is avodah zarah?


The dictionary[2] defines idolatry as the worship of a physical object as a G-d. Obviously this is not a Torah perspective, yet it serves the vast majority of mankind as a working definition.


So, what is avodah zarah according to the Torah?


According to the Torah, idolatry can best be defined as the deification of any created thing, be it an object, concept, philosophy, or individual. The object of deification, therefore, becomes the focal point of one’s life. By focusing on the falsely deified thing, one thus loses focus of the True source of all – HaShem. Never the less, avodah zarah is a very seductive passion, and one wonders why HaShem does not remove it.


Avodah Zarah 4 The sages while in Rome were asked, “If [G-d] does not want avodah zarah why does He not abolish it?” They replied, “Had they [the idol worshippers] been worshipping things the world does not need He would have done so. They, however, are worshipping the sun, moon, stars and signs [zodiac]. Should the world be destroyed because of fools?” They [the questioners] said, “Let Him destroy the [worshipped] things that are not necessary for the world leaving those that are.” They replied, “That would further strengthen their worshippers. That would further strengthen the legitimacy of the ones that were not destroyed, as G-ds.”


An interesting aspect of avodah zarah, that is discussed in Masechet Sanhedrin, is the fact that avodah zarah is forbidden not only to Jews but to all people of the world, as it is one of the seven Noachide laws. This impacts on Jews, as well, since they are commanded to destroy the idol worship in the land of Israel and, theoretically, throughout the world. Even if is not within the power of the Jewish people to accomplish this, nevertheless Jews are not allow to support those who want to worship idols or assist them in doing so.


Similarly, participating in pagan holidays and festivals is forbidden.


But, I am getting a bit ahead of myself; however it is important that we at least have a definition at this point. Later we are going to drill down and look at this more closely.


As we all know, there are specific Torah prohibitions against idolatry. One of the most recognized passages, against idolatry, is in the giving of the Torah at Sinai:


Shemot (Exodus) 20:1-6 And G-d spake all these words, saying, 2  I am HaShem thy G-d, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3  Thou shalt have no other G-ds before me. 4  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5  Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I HaShem thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6  And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


Kabbalisticaly, the second commandment, prohibiting idolatry, is the root of all the negative commandments; just as the first commandment is the root of all of the positive commandments. This is understood from the fact that HaShem listed them first before any other positive or negative commandments.


The Nazarean Codicil[3] also condemns idolatry:


I Corinthians 10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.


II Luqas (Acts) 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to G-d: 20  But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.


Rabbi Tatz[4] explains idolatry as follows: “If idolatry is merely the worship of imaginary, dreamed-up ideas or human delusions then why does the Torah go to such pains to forbid it? The Torah could have simply said: “Don’t believe in falsehood” or “Don’t be a fool”. Obviously the Torah is warning us about the existence of a very real danger.


Torah deals with idolatry as though it is real. Why does the Torah even countenance false G-ds if they do not exist?


Further, the Tanach[5] deals with false G-ds by using the very names which we attribute to HaShem! As HaShem uses the name Elohim when He is exercising the attribute of strict justice, so also are false G-ds called “Elohim”. In fact every other name that is used to refer to HaShem is also used to refer to false G-ds, except the name HaShem. The only name never associated with idolatry is the yod-hay-vav-hay name of HaShem.


On the other hand, the Tanach deals with idolatry as though it was foolishness and amounts to nothing.


Yesahyahu (Isaiah) 44:13-19 The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house. 14  He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. 15  Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a G-d, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. 16  He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: 17  And the residue thereof he maketh a G-d, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my G-d. 18  They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. 19  And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?


So is idolatry real or is it not real? The answer is … both!


An idol has no independent power so in this case it is worthless. On the other hand, the idol represent a real channel of power that is manifest in the physical world. It is not The Source, but it is a tool or channel of The Source.


I had an experience this week which illustrates this concept. I was dealing with a garage door vendor who had been sent out to repair my garage door by the folks who manage the house I live in. This vendor clearly saw the management company as his customer because they paid his bills and they were the ones who hired him. In the end, he lost the job because his work was unsatisfactory to me, the true customer – the true source of the resources.


In the end, however, he learned that the renter always pays the bills of the management company, the owner, and the venders. He is the true source because it is his money which funds the entire operation. The following table illustrates this relationships.






Property Manager



We find a similar relationship with our government at any particular level. A vender usually views the governmental agency as his customer because they hire him and pay his fees. This belies the fact that all of the money that the governmental agency has, comes from the taxpayer. This means that the taxpayer is the true customer of every vender to the government. If the taxpayer receives the short end of the stick too often, then those who head the agency are replaced by newly elected leaders. Only a fool flaunts the will of the taxpayer. Revolutions, elections, and rebellions are the result of the failure to please the source of all government resources – the taxpayer. The following table illustrates this relationships.









Finally, we find a similar relationship in the Kingdom of G-d. A man who worships idols is one who is looking to an intermediary to provide his desires rather than The Source, i.e. HaShem. Just because the intermediary can provide the goods does not mean that they are the ultimate Source of those goods.


An idol, a job, a family, money, or other things may seem like the source of our security, but, if we fail to acknowledge that HaShem is The One who provides all of our needs, The One that we truly serve, then we will always suffer the consequences. The following table illustrates these relationships.






Sun, Moon, Stars



The moral of this story is to look beyond the intermediaries and keep our eyes focused on The Source. Do not be deceived by the appearance that it is the intermediary who provides for us, rather we should keep our eyes on The Source, HaShem.


II. What is avodah zarah (idolatry)?


The term “idolatry” in the contemporary modern mind translates to an ancient practice where statues and other artifacts were invested with divine powers. The broader term, avodah zarah (alien service), is understood traditionally to be the worship of multiple G-ds or objects representing those G-ds.


An inanimate object has no power, as any sane man knows.


It is important to differentiate between a source of power and a wielder of power. To the intelligent mind the idea of idolatry is not in terms of the source of power but more in terms of the wielder of power.


The clerk in a store can serve as a good example of the difference between the two. The clerk is a wielder of power. However, in terms of the source of power, he is low in the hierarchy. His power is ultimately derived from the owner of the store. Although the owner is the source of power, he is not a wielder of power for the average customer who fronts the clerk during a purchase.


Idolatry generally concerns itself with the wielder of power rather than the Source of power.


It doesn’t make any difference to the customer how far removed the clerk of the store is from the source of power (the owner of the store). As long as the clerk is the one who decides how much to charge a customer, it is the clerk whom the customer is concerned with pleasing. The clerk then is the wielder of power, while the store owner is the source of power. Where the clerk’s power is derived from makes no difference to the customer. As far as he is concerned, he only has to deal with the clerk.


If the clerk wants to charge full price, then the customer pays full price. If the customer slips the clerk a bribe, he may only get charged pennies on the dollar.


In the same way, idolatry generally concerns itself with the wielder of power rather than the Source of power. In the eyes of idolaters, the idol was seen neither as the source of their existence nor as the source of their well-being. They understood that ultimately there was a G-d who was the source of their existence, but they thought that he had delegated power in much the same way as the owner delegates power to the clerk. In this situation, man imagines a G-d delegating authority so that it might be able to concentrate on, so to speak, higher policies. Thus, when man creates his own image of HaShem, he inevitably creates a G-d in the image of man.


The Rambam in the Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Avodah zarah 1:1 says:


“At the time of Enosh, people made a great mistake. The mind of the wise of the generation became brutish and Enosh erred along with them. This was their error: They said, being that G-d created these stars and spheres to run the world, placing them on high and dignifying them as they are His servants, it is therefore appropriate to praise and embellish them and treat them with dignity. That is the will of G-d, blessed be He, [for us] to aggrandize and dignify those He aggrandized and dignified, just as the king wants us to dignify his servants and entourage. Thus is the majesty of a king.”


Herein lies the origin of avodah zarah.


III. The end of the drive to idolatry


The Torah is replete with warnings against idolatry. This begs a question for those in this generation:  Why is it that we have no desire for idolatry today?


Today, these Torah exhortations seem entirely superfluous. Almost no sane human being today has any interest in worshipping a graven image of any sort. In fact, it seems strange to us that anyone ever had such a passion.


Why do we see a disconnect between the drive of idolatry (the Yetzer HaRa) as we see it in the Torah, and the absence of the drive to idolatry that that we experience today?


According to the Talmud, the Men of the Great Assembly, a group of 120 sages, some of the greatest Torah scholars ever convened during the era of the second Beit HaMikdash, excised this inclination from the human psyche.


We can get an idea of how strong the inclination for idolatry was before they conquered it. The Talmud tells us that the Men of the Great Assembly[6] were encouraged by their success in conquering one of the two major passions of mankind, so they decided to turn their sights on the other major passion: the inclination for promiscuity. When the sages succeeded in capturing the passion for promiscuity, however, they came to the realization that if they destroyed this passion people would no longer procreate, so they released it.


The juxtaposition of the inclination for avodah zarah and the inclination for sex, by the  Torah and the Nazarean Codicil, shows that these were equal inclinations. Vayikra (Leviticus) chapter 20 shows this juxtaposition clearly. Consider also the following example in the Nazarean Codicil:


II Luqas (Acts) 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to G-d: 20  But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.


Not only are illicit sex and idolatry juxtaposed in the above passage, but we also note that idolatry is forbidden to Gentiles.


Finally, it is worth noting that adultery is a remez for idolatry.


The juxtaposition of the inclination for avodah zarah and the inclination for sex, by the Talmud, shows that these were equal inclinations. We are all aware of how difficult it is to control the inclination for licentiousness. Chazal teach us that people once had an equal passion to serve idols. This gives us all a clear idea about the passion for idols that plagued man throughout history until the time of the Men of the Great Assembly.


Why did prophecy end? 


The reason prophecy ended is because the Men of the Great Assembly appealed to HaShem to remove the desire for idolatry and with it went the desire for HaShem (AKA the gift of prophecy).[7]


The Gemara[8] informs us that in the future, HaShem will slaughter the Yetzer HaRa[9] in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the wicked, the Yetzer HaRa will appear as a strand of hair and the wicked will weep at not having been able to overcome a force as weak as that symbolized by a mere strand of hair.


R’ Yaakov Emden explains the reason for the depiction of the Yetzer HaRa as a strand of hair with a Gemara in Yoma. The Gemara[10] relates that the Men of the Great Assembly[11] prayed that the Yetzer HaRa of avodah zarah be given over to them; HaShem answered their prayer. A fiery lion emerged from the Holy of Holies and as the Men of the Great Assembly seized the lion, a single strand of hair slipped from its mane; it is this remnant of the Yetzer HaRa that is shown to the wicked in the future.

Yoma 69b
He answered: One does not pronounce the Ineffable Name outside [the limits of the Temple]. But may one not? Is it not written: And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose. [. . . and Ezra praised the great G-d]. And R. Giddal [commenting thereupon] said: He magnified Him by [pronouncing] the Ineffable Name?-That was a decision in an emergency. And [they] cried with a great [loud] voice unto the Lord, their G-d. What did they cry? — Woe, woe, it is he who has destroyed the Sanctuary, burnt the Temple, killed all the righteous, driven all Israel into exile, and is still dancing around among us! Thou hast surely given him to us so that we may receive reward through him. We want neither him, nor reward through him! Thereupon a tablet fell down from heaven for them, whereupon the word ‘truth’ was inscribed. (R. Hanina said: One may learn therefrom that the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is truth). They ordered a fast of three days and three nights, whereupon he was surrendered to them. He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a young fiery lion.


Sefer Devarim is replete with warnings against idolatry, as the following example shows:


Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:16 Lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image.


Truthfully, our utter disinterest in idol worship is not a credit to our advanced, developed intelligence or our purer faith in HaShem. The Men of the Great Assembly determined that the inclination to serve avodah zarah was too strong for mankind to withstand. The Talmud[12] relates how the Men of the Great Assembly captured the Yetzer HaRa for idolatry and destroyed it.


Sanhedrin 64a Come and hear: And they cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their G-d.[13] Now what did they say? — Rab Judah, or as others maintain R. Jonathan said: [They cried this:] ‘Woe, woe, it is that [sc. idolatry] which destroyed the Sanctuary, burnt the Temple, slew the righteous, and exiled Israel from their land; and still it sports amongst us! Hast Thou not set it before us that we might be rewarded [for withstanding its allurements]? But we desire neither temptation nor reward!’[14] — That too was after they were seduced by it. [Continuing Rab Judah’s statement:] They fasted for three days, entreating for mercy; thereafter their sentence fell from Heaven, the word emeth [truth] written upon it. (R. Hanina said: This proves that the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is emeth.) The shape of a fiery lion’s whelp issued from the Holy of Holies, and the Prophet said to Israel, That is the Tempter of Idolatry. Whilst they held it fast, a hair [of its body] fell out, and his roar of pain was heard for four hundred parasangs. [In perplexity] they cried: ‘What shall we do? Maybe Heaven will pity him !’ The prophet answered: Cast him into a lead cauldron, and cover it with lead to absorb his voice, as it is written, And he said, This is wickedness; and he cast it into the midst of the ephah: and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof.[15] Then they said, ‘Since the time is propitious, let us pray that the Tempter of Sin [may likewise be delivered into our hands].’ So they prayed and it was delivered into their hands. They imprisoned it for three days; after that they sought a new laid egg for an invalid in the whole of Palestine and could not find one.[16] Then they said, ‘What shall we do? Shall we pray that his power be but partially destroyed?[17] Heaven will not grant it.’ So they blinded it with rouge. This was so far effective that one does not lust for his forbidden relations.


This same incident is reiterated in Yoma 69b:


Yoma 69b And [they] cried with a great [loud] voice unto the Lord, their G-d.[18] What did they cry? — Woe, woe, it is he[19] who has destroyed the Sanctuary, burnt the Temple, killed all the righteous, driven all Israel into exile, and is still dancing around among us! Thou hast surely given him to us so that we may receive reward through him.[20] We want neither him, nor reward through him! Thereupon a tablet fell down from heaven for them, whereupon the word ‘truth’[21] was inscribed. (R. Hanina said: One may learn therefrom that the seal of the Holy One, blessed be He, is truth). They ordered a fast of three days and three nights, whereupon he was surrendered to them. He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a young fiery lion. Thereupon the Prophet said to Israel: This is the evil desire of idolatry, as it is said: And he said: This is wickedness.[22] As they took hold of him a hair of his beard fell out, he raised his voice and it went [was audible] four hundred parasangs. Thereupon they said: How shall we act? Perhaps, G-d forbid, they might have mercy upon him from heaven! — The prophet said unto them: Cast him into a leaden pot, closing its opening with lead. Because lead absorbs the voice, as it is said: And he said: This is wickedness. And he cast her down into the midst of the measure, and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof.[23] They said: Since this is a time of Grace, let us pray for mercy for the Tempter to evil.[24] They prayed for mercy, and he was handed over to them. He said to them: Realize that if you kill him, the world goes down. They imprisoned him for three days, then looked in the whole land of Israel for a fresh egg and could not find it.[25] Thereupon they said: What shall we do now? Shall we kill him? The world would then go down. Shall we beg for half-mercy?[26] They do not grant ‘halves’ in heaven.[27] They put out his eyes and let him go. It helped inasmuch as he no more entices men to commit incest.[28]


The demise of idolatry (drive towards a false G-d) in the world correlates to the end of prophecy (the drive to HaShem). This is no coincidence. An ability to relate to HaShem on an elevated level prods man to search for closeness to HaShem, but there is no guarantee that his effort will bear fruit. A slight distortion can corrupt his service, resulting in an avodah (service) that is ‘zarah’, foreign to the precise requirements of the Beit HaMikdash.


The men of the Great Assembly decided to cast out the Yetzer HaRa from all of Israel.  Then they found, after a time, that “there was not an egg to be found” in the entire land.  What this means is that without the urge to selfish gratification, no reproduction occurred.  Other versions, of this incident, say that no business was done, either. Life cannot go on without the Yetzer HaRa; our task is to live with it and subdue it, to act according to the dictates of the Torah even when our selfishness would have us act otherwise.


When the drive, or urge, for idolatry was removed from the world, what was left in the human psyche?


Chazal teach us that what was left, when this inclination was removed, was … NOTHING! In the spot where this inclination lived, we now had an urge to do nothing. This has profound ramifications that affect everyone today.


Before the men of the Great Assembly excised the drive to idolatry, men valued their time and tried to make use of every moment. Only an animal would waste or kill time. A human would never waste time.


After idolatry was excised from the world, men now had a very strong urge to do nothing. We can now find great pleasure in games that take us nowhere and accomplish nothing. We can engage in a rambling conversation on meaningless topics, for hours, and it feels so good. This is what we have instead of a drive to idolatry.


Lest we get too impressed with ourselves, the Talmud reminds us that idolatry was an incredibly seductive force in the time of the first Temple.  One of the most prolific idolaters was King Menashe.  According to the Talmud,[29] the sage Rav Ashi questioned Menashe:  “If you are so wise, why did you worship idols?”  King Menashe replied to the great Rabbi: “Had you been there you would have raised the skirt of your garment and run after me!”


Sanhedrin 102b In the college of R. Ashi the lecture [one day] terminated at ‘Three Kings.’[30] ‘To-morrow, said he, ‘we will commence with our colleagues.’[31] [That night] Manasseh came and appeared to him in a dream. ‘Thou hast called us thy colleagues and the colleagues of thy father; now, from what part [of the bread] is [the piece for reciting] the ha-mozi[32] to be taken?’ ‘I do not know,’ he answered. ‘Thou hast not learned this,’ he jibed, ‘yet thou callest us thy colleagues!’[33]Teach it me,’ he begged, ‘and to-morrow I will teach it in thy name at the session.’ He answered, ‘From the part that is baked into a crust.’[34] He then questioned him, ‘Since thou art so wise, why didst thou worship idols?’ He replied, ‘Wert thou there, thou wouldst have caught up the skirt of thy garment and sped after me.’ The next day he observed to the students: We will commence with our teachers [so referring to the Three Kings]. Ahab denotes that he was an ah [a brother][35] to Heaven, and an ab [a father] to idolatry. An ah to Heaven, as it is written, a brother [ah] is born for trouble,’[36] and ab [father] to idolatry, as it is written, As a father loveth his children.[37]


Rav Ashi was among the greatest of the Amoraim![38] How could this great amoraim go running after idolatry? What was avodah zarah, and how did such great men fall victim to it? In the days of the amoraim, people lived on different level. Their heads were more in the heavens than on the earth, clinging to HaShem and knowing His ways and the way the world works. What they found was a system where HaShem controls the world through messengers[39] with each one given a different task. Of course, HaShem controls all these messengers who are mere extensions of His will. To believe otherwise is heresy.


Our Sages tell us that avodah zarah was a method of forcing these messengers to do as we wish. This urge for idolatry was used to find the messenger in charge of rain and forcing him to give rain. Now of course this could not happened against the will of HaShem, but HaShem allowed it to be. Although their initial intentions were pure, once they had these “keys” in their hands the temptation to manipulate it for good reasons became irresistable.


The temptation to worship idols is incomprehensible to those who did not live during Menashe's lifetime. It was only after the deaths of these kings that the Men of the Great Assembly prayed for this terrible Yetzer HaRa to be banished from the world. HaShem accepted their prayers, and the drive to worship idolatry became extinct.


Thus we see that the urge for idolatry was akin to the urge for sex. In fact, that is why the Gemara links the drive to idolatry with the drive for sex in Yoma 69b, as we saw earlier in this study. That is how strong this urge was. In the same way that licentious sex causes many to sin, so also did idolatry cause many to fall.


Sanhedrin 63b Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Yisrael knew that idolatry was meaningless, they only served it in order to permit themselves sexual licentiousness in public.


IV. Astrology as avodah zarah


Mazal is badly translated as luck, but it is anything but luck. Mazal shares the same root as the word Nozel which means “flow”. Spiritual energy flows from the inner world to our world through the medium of the mazzaroth (AKA the zodiac). There is no luck or randomness; everything is directed by HaShem Who is ‘hiding’ behind it all. (When we wish someone a mazal-tov we are definitely not telling them that their success was a fluke. Rather, we are invoking a flow of energy and blessing to them. That their success may be a source of more blessing in their lives.)


The mazzaroth elements split the spiritual unified energy into various channels or pipelines that energize nature, giving the impression of separateness and division.  There are always twelve channels (or thirteen entities). That is why there are twelve constellations in the mazzaroth (or mazaloth). These twelve are mirrored in the twelve tribes, the twelve sons of Yaaqov (the thirteen entities are the tribes plus Yaaqov). It is this connection that these thirteen are what binds them into one. As we know, thirteen always means one. (See the study titled: thirteen.)


Consider the head. Inside we see ourselves in a singular unified way. Outside, others always perceive us in a differentiated way. The see a father, a son, a husband, a doctor, etc. This outside differentiated view is reflected in the hair on the head. The hair would represent the constellations and the head would be the sphere that contains the mazzaroth.


Idolatry, is relating not to the Source of the unified energy, but to the pipelines, to the messengers in charge of the pipelines. The idol worshipper focuses on the mazzaroth or natural elements. His idols are tangible representations of the energies, he prays to them thinking that they have independent power, and he ignores HaShem, the true Source of that energy and power.


When one worships The Source, he is concerned about what his obligations are. But one who serves the intermediaries is concerned about what they can do for him. The intermediaries represent human needs and he doesn’t have to look any further. It is interesting to note that idols are often human forms since idolatry is really worship of the self, and a removal of the responsibility to serve a Higher Power. Who needs the owner when he can bribe the clerk to get the goods.


So idolatry is serious business, the elements of this worship are not made-up or foolish, they stand to transmit energy from the Source. That is why they share names with HaShem Himself. The emptiness in idolatry is the belief that the intermediaries are a source of power in themselves.


V. Conclusion


There are vestiges of idolatry in the world. They are found in young children (who are too young to speak), dogs, and people who are so insane that they are unable to speak.


An idolater is one who knows that there is a source, but he does not go to the source. He goes to the one who can deliver the goods. He is not interested in the source. He is interested in the goods.


Idolatry is going to the right source, but stopping when they get to the intermediaries, the piplelines. That is why the false G-ds have the various names of HaShem (except the yod-hay-vav-hay name[40]). These are the names that bring the names of HaShem’s oneness, as differentiated entities, into the world.


In the beginning, man worshipped only HaShem. Over time they noticed that HaShem used His servants to convey His will to the world. They noticed that HaShem had servants called the sun, the wind, the moon, fire, etc. They reasoned that these servants should be honored. Over time, they forgot the source and worshipped and served only the servants.


This explains why Mashiach[41] Yeshua is worshipped by Christians as though He was HaShem. They have seen that Yeshua can deliver salvation, which is from HaShem, and have decided to look to the clerk who can deliver the goods instead of looking to The Owner, The Source – HaShem.


John chapter one is clear that Yeshua is The Word. It also makes clear that there must be a speaker of The Word. That speaker is HaShem. The Word is the servant who brings down what HaShem has decreed. The Word is not the source! Worshipping Yeshua is a form of avodah zarah, the worship of a false G-d. We looked extensively into the Nazarean Codicil to understand worship as it applies to Yeshua in a study titled: YESHUA.


The idol worshipper uses the idol, the graven image, to focus on the energy that is coming down. He does not see the idol as the source of the power. Neither does he look to the ultimate source – HaShem. Instead he looks to an intermediate source that can deliver what he wants. The idol is the focus of this intermediate energy. The idol represents the force that can deliver what he wants!


Graven images are almost always in the image of a man. Why is this? An idol worshipper worships himself. He sees no need for anyone else because he can get what he wants for himself. Consequently his idol, his graven image resembles himself.


A tzaddik has HaShem standing over him, whilst an idolater stands over his G-d. A tzaddik serves HaShem whereas an idolater serves himself and has his G-ds serve him. He has made himself to be HaShem.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXIX:3 The wicked stand over their G-ds, as it says, And Pharaoh dreamed, and, behold, he stood over the river (Gen. XLI, 1);[42] but the G-d of the righteous stands over them, as it says, AND, BEHOLD, THE LORD STOOD OVER HIM, etc.[43]


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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Olympia, WA 98501


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[1] Literally “foreign worship”.

[2] Mirriam-Webster

[3] AKA New Testament.

[4]Letters to a Buddhist Jew” (pg 49-62)

[5] An acronym for: Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim – The Law, The Prophets, and The Writings.

[6] Anshei Keneset HaGedolah

[7] Yoma 69b

[8] In Succah 52a

[9] Yetzer HaRa = the evil inclination

[10] In Yoma 69b

[11] כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה‎ אַנְשֵׁי 

[12] Yoma 69b

[13] Nehemiah 9:4. This was on the fast-day held by the newly established community in Palestine.

[14] This also proves that it had a strong hold upon them. (5) A parasang is 8000 cubits.

[15] Zechariah 5: 8.

[16] Through the imprisonment of the Tempter sexual lust was dormant throughout creation.

[17] Lit.. ‘half and half’. That it may arouse only legitimate sexual desire.

[18] Nehemiah 9:4

[19] The evil desire, tempter of idolatry.

[20] For resisting him successfully Israel would be rewarded.

[21] I.e., I agree with you: you spoke the truth.

[22] Zechariah 5:8.

[23] Zechariah 5:8.

[24] The evil desire, for idolatry is also the evil desire for immorality. The two were found to go hand in hand.

[25] Whereas there is no good in idolatry there is at least some good in the desire for sex indulgence. Perpetuation of the race depends upon it. So does human food. The people who found themselves with the opportunity to destroy the temptation of flesh-love discovered that, when the genius of sex-love is cancelled, no eggs are available.

[26] To ask that temptation or the tempter should live, but not tempt, is to ask a thing that Heaven will not grant. The tempter lives to tempt. But by depriving its flame of its major glare, by keeping it within lawful limits, one promotes domesticity and prevents depravity.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Lit., ‘against relatives’.

[29] Sanhedrin 102b

[30] I.e., the lecture on a particular day ended when ‘Three Kings’ of supra XI,1, was reached.

[31] This was a playful reference to the three kings, who were scholars.

[32] The blessing for bread, on account of its ending ‘who bringest forth (ha-mozi) bread from the earth.’

[33] He was jeering at R. Ashi as not worthy of being called his colleague.

[34] I.e., a piece of the outer surface must be taken for the purpose, not the inner dough.

[35] In an evil sense, as the Talmud proceeds to quote.

[36] Prov. 17:17.

[37] Psalm 103:13; so translated here (Rashi). Cf. ibid. 18:2: I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.

[38] Lit. ”those who say” or “those who tell over”. These were renowned Jewish scholars who “said” or “told over” the teachings of the Oral Law, from about 200 to 500 CE in Babylon and the Land of Israel. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara

[39] Malachim

[40] This name is never given to false G-ds because it is the name of HaShem’s oneness.

[41] I am using Mashiach without further qualification, to apply to Mashiach ben Joseph, which is not the normal Jewish way. The normal Jewish way is to that an ‘mashiach’ without qualification always applies to Mashiach ben David only. See Rambam’s Hilchot Melachim.

[42] Sc. the Nile, which the Egyptians worshipped.

[43] Y.T.: idolaters must stand over and protect their deities, whereas the the G-d protects his adherents.