Moses Refutes Mysticism

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim & Howard Salamon

The sun shines equally on us all; I assume you would agree? This is Moses’ message, but what is his true meaning?

“Lest you lift your eyes heavenward, and you see the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, and bow to them and serve them, that God your God allotted to all peoples under heaven” (Deut. 4:19).  (Talmud Avodah Zara 55a)

Here, Moses repudiates sun, moon and star worship. As Rabbi Israel Chait taught, at the core of idolatry is the ultimate desire that one is favored by the deity he serves. Man worships an object with the hopes that the object will recognize him and improve his affairs. 

Moses’ argument here is perfect. He rejects the concept of the heavenly spheres favoring a particular nation or person, which is the primary motivation of idolatry. That is, Moses teaches that God allotted the heavenly luminaries to give light indiscriminately…to “all” peoples. Luminaries do not favor one nation or person over another. This message intends to eliminate the Jews’ attraction to the alien practice of star worship. Moses exposed the alien belief that luminaries favor certain individuals.

Rav teaches the dual meaning of the word “allotted” (chalak) to also mean “make smooth.” Rav said, 

“God made it smooth (easy) with words/matters for the nations of the world to be attracted to star worship to remove them from the world. 

On the surface, that sounds vicious. But this can't be so, as God gave every human being a soul and wants all mankind to have the best life. This applies to both gentile and Jew. But what Rav means is that God does not interfere with one's freewill by making it difficult to sin. It is God's will that every person freely evaluate reality using his mind, and not avoid sin due to emotional difficulty. Therefore, God removes all hurdles on the path to worshipping the sun, moon and stars. This is expressed by saying, “God made it smooth with words to worship them.”  Smooth “with words” means the idolaters’ own words (interpretation) that luminaries are deities, is what enabled their idolatry. Meaning, it is not the physical phenomena itself that in anyway suggests the luminaries are deities, but it is the idolaters’ “words”—his imagination—that assumes the luminaries are gods. 

Another reason God makes these heavenly luminaries so amazing is to impress upon man the greatness of their Creator. Creation is not to be compromised in any way by inhibiting its amazing properties, for that would minimize God’s greatness, while God wants man to grasp His greatness through studying nature. 

Reish Lakish supports Rav’s teaching with the verse, “If you go to the scorners, you'll become scorner, but to the humble kindness is given” (Prov. 3:34). Rashi explains, “If a person is attracted to scorners, he too will scorn others with them.” Reish Lakish explains, “If one comes to impure himself, the doors opened.” Meaning, as stated above, God does not interfere with one's free will and if he chooses to scorn or worship stars, the path is open. Had God created a world where lightning strikes one as he sins, man would not have the preferred free will to determine his actions, as his fear of lightning would suspend his free thinking.  

We also derive a separate idea: “If you go to the scorners, you'll become scorner, but to the humble people, kindness is given” means that the affect on man differs between scorners and humble people. Scorners entice the aggressive part of man. Thus, one associating with scorners becomes a scorner himself. But humble people do not oppose our egos, and with no ego threat, natural pity and kindness emerge.