You shall have no other gods…

Texts and beliefs By Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg 05th Jun 2019

I used to think the second commandment ‘Make no image or likeness; don’t bow down to or worship them,’ was about praying to sticks and stones, sculptures and paintings. I relegated its relevance to the realms of ancient history. I now realise how wrong that is. 

Faith, wrote the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, is about our ‘ultimate concern’. Everybody has an ultimate concern which describes what they see, consciously or unconsciously, as the goal and purpose of their life. The issue is: what is that concern? 

Western societies almost invariably measure themselves by growth, GDP. As individuals, we are constantly invited and incited to assess ourselves by success: job, achievement, income, popularity, numbers of followers on social media. In our celebrity culture, icons are those who tick these boxes most. 

If asked whether we worship such ‘values’ we would say ‘no’. But is that the truth? An astute re-reading of the second commandment (Hasidism is replete with ‘creative misreadings’) runs not ‘Don’t make for yourself’, but ‘Don’t make of yourself an idol’. 

Individually and collectively, we are in acute danger of eclipsing God, the presence of God in nature and the need to serve and care for God’s world, by worshipping ourselves. 

[This is part of the publication “The Ten (Masorti) Commandments”. The full booklet can be found here.]

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