By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
In the second of this week’s double Sedra the Torah instructs us: “do not turn to the elilim and do not make elohei-masaicha“. The Rishonim differ regarding the exact explanation of this passage.
Rashi explains that although a person may initially view them as elilim – fallacies -, once one has turned to these erroneous beliefs — for whatever reason — one ends up viewing them as actual powers. Rashi understands the Passuk as meaning that although originally when we experiment with these false gods we view them as being close to worthless, through using them however, we end up changing the way we look at them and eventually we see them as some sort of force. The Ibn-Ezra however, seems to understand this passage slightly differently. He explains that elilim is just a term used for referring to idols. The Ibn-Ezra explains that the difference between the first half and the second half of the Passuk is as follows: when the Torah tells us not to turn to elilim it is telling us not to engage in idol worship; when the Torah tells us not to manufacture elohei-masaicha the Torah is telling us not manufacture any go-betweens between us and Hashem – this is because we need no intermediaries to serve Hashem.
If we carefully analyze these two explanations we will find a number of discrepancies between the way Rashi explains the Passuk and the way Ibn-Ezra does. There is, however, one fundamental underlining difference in approach. Rashi explains that although the starting point is fairly innocent – that we do not believe in these powers as anything significant, eventually however, once we start to consider them on any level we will succumb to complete worship and faith in them to the point of worship. Ibn-Ezra’s approach is almost the complete opposite: he understands that the Passuk is telling us at the beginning not to turn to Avoda Zara as Avoda Zara, and now that this is said and done the Torah is continuing and telling us not to use them even just as mediums to worshiping Hashem – that even their being mediums consecrates them as idols.
Both the approaches of Rashi and of Ibn-Ezra are ways that we approach nonsense throughout life. Sometimes we get sucked into following trends that are anti-Hashem by convincing ourselves that we don’t really think that these trends are going to bring us results, yet somehow we convince ourselves that it’s worth a try. Eventually we become convinced that without it there is no way to succeed. This is often the case with all sorts of Segulos (charms) and the like.
Likewise we sometimes find ourselves rationalizing the exact opposite: although we understand that in of itself some act or trend is wrong we somehow find a way of turning it into a religious Jewish practice with some “leShem Shamayim” mixed in. this may very often be the source of many of the Segulos and fads.
Rashi and Ibn-Ezra argue as to how to explain the Passuk, but they agree that any form of other powers being mixed in to our Avodas Hashem is really only a confusion and distortion of Avoda Zara for Avodas Hashem.
Good-Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski