These thoughts occurred to me as I was reviewing parasha Lekh Lekha, and thinking about Avram's embrace of monotheism (or, for you purists, perhaps monolatry?) How different our view of idolatry must be from his. How easy it is for us to dismiss idolatry as a practice of people less mentally and philosophically developed than ourselves. "Of course it's a silly idea" we think. "A gd for this and a gd for that? It hardly makes sense to believe that." Even putting aside the prejudices we may have because of our Judaic, Christian or Islamic beliefs, we would most likely still feel the same way about idolatry, animism, etc.
Is it because we mentally & philosophically approve of and embrace the concept of Adnai Echad that the concept becomes plausible? Must faith require reason?
Through Midrash, the rabbis have attempted to fill in the intellectual and philosophical blanks that perhaps led Avram to become receptive to a monotheistic world view. For whose sake did they do this? Surely not for Abraham, nor for Gd, but for themselves and the people of their times. Was their faith (and is ours) so challenged by reason and science that they had to bolster the case by providing our ancestors with philosophical rationale for coming to believe in one Gd?
Have they done us any favor? We now reject idolatry not because Torah tells us to, but because we find it intellectually inferior. Gd must make sense to us. A rather arrogant viewpoint. Is it beyond comprehension that the Gd we now know (and known to our ancestors) chose, in previous times, to be made known to humans in many forms, and as many Gds? That the spirit of Gd is in all things? This does not change the oneness of Gd, only humankind's perception of Gd. That it does not say so in Torah may be meaningful-often omission is as important as inclusion. Perhaps the omission is deliberate, perhaps Gd chose not to make this known to the children of Israel. There was never any guarantee that this was complete revelation. (I say this not to bolster the case of Christianity and Islam, but just to remind us that perhaps Gd's way of thinking and ours are not the same.) It does, however, change worship. Even as monotheists is it wrong to worship the tree as long as we understand that it is but one small manifestation of the one-ness that is G-d, and that it is the whole we worship, and not just the part? Carrying the idea a little further, what if our world view does not extend beyond the tree -- it is the only piece of the divine that we can see. Must we comprehend (or even know of) the whole to make our worship of the tree worthy? For myself, I believe that I must know and accept the one-ness of Gd, but my world view is very different than those who lived in Avram's time and before it. And my world view is different than those who live with me in my own time.
I don't know the answers to these questions I am raising, (and I am not advocating a return to idolatrous practices,) but the fact that I am searching for the reasons why we view idolatry as intellectually inferior in an intellectual manner already tells me something about myself, religious philosophy and the species to which I belong. It seems necessary for many of us to understand Gd in an existential manner. Why, then, do I and others I know long to want this yearning to understand to be from the heart more so than the mind? And for the understanding itself to be more from the heart than the mind? Maybe it was, for Avram.
I wish you all a restful, joyful, and spirit replenishing Shabbat.
© 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
5766-The Other Siders
Lekh Lekha 5765 - Redux 5760
Lekh Lekha 5764-Ma'aseir Mikol-The Ten Percent Solution
Lekh Lekha 5763-No Explanations
Lekh Lekha 5762-Plainly Spoken
Lekh Lekha 5760-Things Are Seldom What They Seem An Excerpt from the "Journal of Lot"
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