Sin and Self-Worship: Understanding Idolatry in the Framework of Free Will

3 min read

The mitzvah prohibiting the worship of false gods and idols highlights a profound truth: intentionally sinning is akin to elevating oneself to the status of a deity or idol. This insight prompts us to examine the origins of sin. It often stems from the mistaken belief that freewill grants us limitless choices. When we choose between performing a mitzvah or committing a sin, we are failing to recognize God’s sovereignty. We perceive ourselves as separate from God and from each other, which is fundamentally incorrect. This misconception led to humanity’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, as explained in the Torah and various Midrashim.

Consider the explicit commandments that reinforce this perspective:

1. We must not entertain the thought of any divinity other than God, as stated in Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
2. We are forbidden from creating idols, whether by ourselves or by others, as Exodus 20:4 instructs: “Do not make an idol for yourselves.”
3. It is prohibited to create false gods for others, as Leviticus 19:4 declares: “Do not make molten gods for yourselves.”
4. We must not make decorative images, even if they are not worshipped, as per Exodus 20:20: “Do not make a representation of anything that is with Me.”
5. We should not bow down to any false gods, regardless of worship customs, as Exodus 20:5 warns: “Do not bow down to them.”
6. We are commanded not to serve false gods in their customary manner of worship, as Exodus 20:3 reiterates: “Do not serve them.”

Additionally, we are instructed to love and fear God, as highlighted in Deuteronomy 6:5 and 6:13, and to acknowledge His existence and unity as per Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 6:4. These commandments are fundamental to our understanding of our relationship with the Divine.

The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:16-17 further illustrates the serious implications of disobeying God. HaShem explicitly commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, stating that death would be the consequence. This wasn’t an invitation to sin but a prohibition, emphasizing the responsibilities that come with free will. The choice given to Adam and Eve wasn’t a permission slip to transgress; rather, it highlighted the gravity of their decisions.

A quote that I recently wrote encapsulates this perspective by stating, “A Jew who does not obey every aspect of the law that God gave Israel at Mount Sinai is akin to one who worships idols and serves false gods.” This assertion underscores the belief that failing to adhere to divine commandments equates to idolatry.

In recognizing God in all things and understanding that there is no true separation from Him, we confront the greatest challenge to our spiritual existence. The first step towards redemption is acknowledging the truth within the Torah and ourselves, which requires profound contemplation and realization. We must confront and transcend the illusion of free will, understanding that while we possess the ability to choose, our choices are not without profound spiritual costs.

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