The actual practice of worshiping foreign gods passed out of existence in Israel at the end of the biblical period. The sin of idolatry on that level has ceased to be an issue in Jewish spiritual life millennia ago. Yet, idolatry still exists in different forms and continues to plague human life. This is true even among our own people. There are modern forms of idolatry, just as insidious as the original.
The worship of other gods entails an abandonment of God. One’s alligence cannot be in two mutually exclusive places at the same time. To put one’s faith and trust anywhere other than in God is the supreme act of idolatry. Such a course of action is to make a deliberate break with God. Idolatry is a repudiation of God’s will, a desertion of the Mitzvot and a direct breach with the Covenant made between us and God at Mount Sinai.
We as Jews undertook to fulfill a covenant with God when we stood at Mount Sinai. We accepted the responsibility of living our lives in accordance with God’s Law, the Torah. The very first two commandments tie us to a complete acceptance and allegiance to God and His Mitzvot. To place faith and trust anywhere else is to abrogate the covenant with God and to repudiate His will and our relationship to Him.
The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to idolatry as “the idolatry of the heart”. It defines this type of idolatry in various ways. It defines it primarily, as “the worship of gold and silver’. The scrolls see materialism as a core evil in human experience. If one focuses their life efforts and their daily concerns heavily on material possession, if one places their trust and hope in financial security, the acquisition of wealth becomes the emotional center of their lives. It dominates their lives and their thinking as a result.
The spiritual center of such individuals is linked to materialism, not to God. They worship gold and silver. In modern terms, this means that such people are emotionally tied to material possession, and driven to continually acquire wealth and strive continually for financial security. Their faith is put in the illusion of power and security that wealth produces.
Our focus as individuals should be on developing our potential as unique creations. We need to be focusing our lives on who we can become and how we can fully express who we are, rather than on increasing what we have, so we can feel more safe. We need to be more secure within ourselves and less concerned with the illusion of external security. This is the issue of faith.
Where does one put their faith?
There are two basic possibilities. One can put their faith in the outside world. One can place their fate in the hands of external forces and seek to gain wealth, power, influence, position, external structure and physical security or one can put their faith in God.
One can seek within and strive to connect with the Creator and to do God’s will.
One can choose to place his/her faith in themselves and rely on the inner security of knowing who you are and that God will assist you, if you call upon God in truth and sincerety. That is the biblical message.
The scrolls also define the ramifications of idolatry. They point out, that idolatry is a separation from the will of God. It leads an individual to setting himself up as God. He or she begins to think that they are able to determine what is right or wrong, solely according to their own viewpoint or their own intellectual perspective. They become judge and jury for everyone around them, as if they were omniscient. They set themselves up as the final arbiters of what should be. This leads, according to the scrolls, away from God to self-worship.
Self-worship, the worship of an abstract concept, and the worship of material self-interest, all have ample illustration in our century. All have proven their power and their enormous destructiveness. One needs only mention the course of direction taken by communism, fascism and the various ardent, parochial forms of nationalism, that have dominated this century, to realize the tremendous damage and monumental pain that is inflicted on humanity, when faith is put somewhere other than in God.
The manifestations that emerge from such an “ idolatry of the heart” are a pattern of arrogance, hatred, vengeance and violence. Idolatry, in this sense is a primary source of evil. When one puts their faith in armed force, or seek security in the possession of land, or place the fate of an entire people in the hands of a political ideology or movement, they are forsaking God. They are yielding to fear. They are assuming that force, be it military, political or economic has the ultimate power to save. How much hatred, violence, bloodshed and death have been perpetrated in the relentless, emotion-laden quest for land? Has it produced security? Has it brought peace? No. Rather, it has brought suffering, misery and genocide.
The truth is that land is not security. Land is not identity. Land is not survival. Land is not home. Land by itself is just space and shelter. Without God’s blessing, it is nothing. The Bible states that if we seek to do the will of God, uphold the covenant and fulfill the Mitzvot, God will bless the land. If we trust in God, he will guide us and protect us.
But, if we go after our own hearts and our own eyes, God will make the land desolate. That is, if we abandon God and seek to do what we want to strictly according to our own drives, lusts and reasons, the land will dry up and become a barren curse. God will abandon us as we have abandoned Him.
Israel is a people. The Land of Israel is a dwelling place. The two should not be confused. We should have our priorities straight. The people of Israel are to be a light unto the nations. We have done that for four thousand years. We have done that with a homeland and we have done that without one. Our primary relationship is to be with God and to fulfill His word. The Torah commands us to respect other people and to uphold the sanctity of life. We must work toward mutual understanding and respect with those around us.
All people are our brethren. Since all people are children of God, made in the divine image, then reaching a level of mutual respect and understanding is central to fulfilling the Mitzvot. The entire law of the Torah makes it crystal clear, that we fulfill our obligation to God, primarily through morality, justice, and service to other people. In the Torah, justice is the cardinal principle of divine law and it makes no distinction between human beings or nations.
God has returned us to Zion. We are secure in the Land of Israel and we are blessed. It is our obligation to place our faith in God, in His Law and in His promise. We must obey the commandments and strive to serve all people through justice, compassion and understanding. To do otherwise is to violate the very core of the Torah and repudiate the Covenant of Sinai. We cannot allow ourselves to yield to fear and place our faith in territorial acquisition. We cannot yield to a messianic furor driven by desperation. We cannot seek to isolate ourselves from the world physically and emotionally by creating a fortress Israel.
This will not bring redemption. It will not bring security. It will not bring peace. It will bring self-destruction and devastation. Should we as a people take such a route, surrendering faith in God for faith in something else other than Him, even if that is the Land and the Messiah, God will not stand by us and He will not stand idly. The Jewish state was destroyed twice before. Once, through the sin of idolatry, once through the sins of ardent messianists who tried to force God’s hand and bring redemption on their terms. Both paths lead to disaster.
It is imperative we heed the lesson now and not bring Israel to ruin once again. We need to learn to serve God through justice and righteousness and to abandon the idolatry of self-interest, fear and doubt. We need to open ourselves up and understand that true faith is connection to God and service to all of humanity. Anything less is a breach of our obligations as Jews. Anything less is not Judaism. It is Idolatry.