Idolatry & Self Deification

Rabbi Israel Chait

Written by a student

Student: Why did star worship include false prophets? Was this an expression of ego? Rambam says, “False prophets asserted that God commanded them to worship a star,” and also, “Other liars asserted that a star, planet or angel instructed them saying, ‘Worship me [that star] in such a way.’” [1]  

Rabbi Chait: The ultimate goal of all idolatry is self-aggrandizement. The worshippers used the fact that the star spoke to them as an indication of how great they are. By identifying with this object of worship, they themselves become the object of worship. Haman carried an idol on his garment, truly viewing “himself” as worthy of worship [2]. Behind the physical idol is really the self.   

Pharaoh presented himself as a god, as Rashi says: 

For Pharaoh claimed to be a god and asserted that because of his divine power, he did not need to relieve himself; and therefore he used to rise early and go to the Nile and there relieved himself in secret. [4]

Pharaoh also said, “The Nile is mine and I created myself” [5]. Rashi comments: “And I made myself — With my might and with my wisdom, I enhanced my greatness and my dominion.”

Here we see idolatry par excellence. 

Nevuchadnetzar too sought honor himself by creating an image in front of his house:  

Rav said: “Had they tortured Chananya, Misha’el, and Azariah instead of casting them into the fiery furnace [6], these three would have been induced to worship the graven image” [7].

Tosfos (Ibid.) states that Nevuchadnetzar’s image did not embody a deity’s form. From here we learn that Nevuchadnetzar’s idol was not a true idol, but he made it to glorify himself. For had it been a true idol, Chananya, Misha’el and Azaryah could not have worshipped it, even if tortured; but the Gemara says these three would have bowed to it. Thus, it was not technically idolatry, but it was an image that stood for the deification of Nevuchadnetzar. Thus, Haman, Pharaoh and Nevuchadnetzar’s idolatry were expressions of self-aggrandizement. 

Student: How was Enosh serving stars an expression of self-aggrandizement?

Rabbi Chait: By honoring stars through worship, Enosh felt recognized, i.e., the stars needed him and appreciated him. This rendered Enosh an important player. The verse says, “Can a man make gods for himself? But they are not gods.” [8] This means man desires power, and by making gods, he gains power. This is self-glorification. 

Hitler, surprisingly, was religious. He believed that divine power was guiding his life. This was all part of his insane self-deification. It is amazing how seemingly intelligent people could fall so swiftly and completely under his evil influence. Albert Einstein said that the German people were responsible for the Holocaust because Hitler publicized his plans in Mein Kampf, and they elected him nonetheless. 


[1] Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:2

[2] Rashi, Esther 3:2, Esther Rabbah 7:5

[3] Esther 5:9

[4] Exod. 7:15

[5] Ezek. 29:3

[6] Daniel 3:15

[7] Kesuvos 33b

[8] Jer. 16:20