Rabbi Wolpe - ADL Impressions

Behar – Wood and Stone

The Torah never fails to admonish us about idols. Again in this week’s parashah, we are told not to set up idols. We understand that idols are a kind of substitute God, and therefore, it seems like we are insulting God by worshipping other gods, particularly when they are the products of our own hands. But I want to suggest two more ways that idols are dangerous – by making us too important and by making us too insignificant.

Idols contribute to our sense that we can channel the great forces of the world and control them. We make idols in our own image: idols are usually similar to human forms and figures. It is as if we create representations of ourselves and then venerate them.

But idolatry also gives us too little credit. Abraham Joshua Heschel once taught that idols are forbidden not because they insult God, but because they insult us. There already exists in the world an image of God. It is in each human being. Therefore, the medium through which one fashions a genuine image is the medium of one’s life, by sacred acts. To carve a piece of wood and call it God is to belittle God and to belittle the spark of God inside of us.

As images of God, we are given a sacred task. The canvas is existence; a mitzvah is a brushstroke; we are instructed to make of our lives a work of holy art. Rather than carve artistic ornaments from the material of the world and bow to them, we fashion goodness, godliness, for the stuff of our souls.

Rabbi Akiva taught in Pirke Avoth that we are loved for we were created in God’s image. But an even greater love is reflected in God’s telling us that we were made in the divine image. With such a privilege, why fashion idols? Instead, we should learn to see each other as individual sparks of the One who created us all.