Print This Post Print This Post

Idolatry & adultery

Written by d fine

Our sedra sees the repetition of the ten commandments. These comprised of two tablets, each with five commandments on. These two sets of five pair up with each other; each with its adjacent commandment on the opposite tablet, as the kli yakar (shemos 20;13) explains. For example, the first commandment ‘I am HaShem’ corresponds to the first of the second tablet ‘you shall not murder,’ for the gravity and seriousness of murder of a human is sourced in the fact that a human has a spark of HaShem within them (see Avos 3;18); there is no such death penalty for the killing of an animal. Thus, murdering the person ‘removes’ that Divine spark from the world. Furthermore, keeping shabbes (#4) corresponds to its adjacent commandment on the other tablet not bearing false witness (#9), for when one keeps Shabbes he is bearing witness to HaShem having created the world, and breaking Shabbes is the corruption of such witness. See the kli yakar in full for how he explains all the pairings. We shall focus on one of those pairs, namely the prohibition against idolatry (#2) and on adultery (#7). What do idolatry and adultery have in common (other than that they sound similar in English) that they should be paired together?

The above kli yakar cites that several psukim refer to idolatry as adultery. For example, Yechezkal (16;32) rebukes Bnei Yisrael for leaving HaShem to serve idols by using the expression of an ‘adulterous wife, who takes strangers in place of her husband.’ Similarly, the Torah juxtaposes the prohibition of adultery with the prohibition of a form of idol worship (‘molech’) in parshas Acharei Mos (18;20-21). In, fact. The ultimate source of our failure in serving idols itself is referred to by Chazal in terms of adultery. Bnei Yisrael’s sin of the golden calf is expressed by Chazal as a bride cheating on her husband during their chupah. And this is not only a ‘convenient’ parable to convey our rebelling against HaShem on the doorstep of mattan torah. In order to find out who was involved in this sin, Moshe makes the people drink sotah waters – a test reserved for an unfaithful wife (Rashi Shemos 32;20). The logical connection between idolatry and adultery that the kli yakar himself mentions is that adultery leads to adultery; he cites the enticement of the bnos midyan in the sin of ba’al pe’or as a prime example. Though this is all true, it seems that the fact that one leads to the other is a product of a somewhat deeper connection between the two; that idolatry is adultery, as the above psukim suggest and as we shall explain.

The relationship between HaShem and Bnei Yisrael is mainly described in one of two ways. We are the son and He is our father (eg Devarim 14;1 ‘You are children to HaShem’), and we are the bride and He is the groom (shir hashirim). The difference between these two relationships is that a son is a son, no matter what, whilst the relationship of a husband and wife is based on choice – they choose to foster love in entering a relationship together. Thus, it is often when we are not necessarily behaving as we should and we are trying to foster the mercy of HaShem that we refer to Him as our Father – because a Father has mercy on his son no matter what. For example, it is in our low spiritual level in Egypt that we are referred to as HaShem’s sons; (shemos 4;22) ‘so says HaShem my firstborn son Israel.’ A wife is a wife on merit, and is the display of love between us and HaShem. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech conveys the loving relationship between HaShem and Bnei Yisrael as a husband and wife – for this shows love. And as mentioned above, this was mattan torah; a wedding between HaShem and His people, as it were.

The Meshech Chochmah (Vayikra 23;24 ‘yihiyeh’) provides a wonderful illustration of this marriage relationship. He notes that just like two beings in love, HaShem and Bnei Yisrael often wish to each ascribe credit to each other. For example, our tefillin say ‘shema yisrael…’ and praise HaShem, whilst the tefillin that HaShem ‘wears’ say on them ‘who is like your nation Israel’ – ascribing greatness to us (gemarra brachos, chagigah 3b). So too did HaShem command Moshe to “take revenge on behalf of Bnei Yisrael against the midianites,” (31;2) yet Moshe alters this to “…take the revenge of HaShem against the midianites (31;3).” Similarly, we name the yom tov ‘pesach’ after HaShem’s actions in passing over and saving us, whilst HaShem calls it in the Torah ‘chag hamatzos,’ after what we did. There are many examples of the above principle; the point that we are using is that it is based on our marriage-like relationship with HaShem.

If our relationship includes that of a loving marriage, Bnei Yisrael serving idols is simply a wife cheating on her Husband (HaShem) by turning their attention to other ‘powers.’ This is why the mashal Chazal give to the chet ha’egel is so accurate, as is the appropriateness of the test of the Sotah waters. In fact, on a deeper level, idolatry is based on the worship of the self. Someone who worship idols does not worship the idol itself, but uses them as a conduit to get the goods that he wants. For example, a nationality who has many gods (god of the wind, of war, etc.) is not interesting in serving them all; they just want the goods that they are ‘in charge’ of – which really means they want the goods themselves. Worship like this is not selfless worship, but rather a desire to have one’s own needs satisfied. It is a worship of the self. (R’ Tatz) This same self-focus and selfishness is present in adultery too. The Chafetz Chaim (the second biur halacha in orach chaim) cites the sefer hachinuch (mitzvah 387) who defines ‘znus’ (similar to adultery in this point) as ‘pursing pleasures of this world for no positive reason whatsoever.’ This, too, is filled with a focus on one’s self and their ego – focussing on what they can get for themselves to make their life more pleasurable.

PG we should try to live life unselfishly and not go near idolatry or adultery, or any of their roots and causes,

Have a great Shabbes

Leave a Comment