Why We Sin

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

God said to Moses: “You are soon to lie with your fathers. This people will rise and go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them” (Deut. 31:16)

“When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their fathers, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant” (Ibid 31:20).


God tells Moses the Jews will sin in the future and that He will hide His eyes from them. God identifies 2 reasons why the Jews will sin. The first is due to Moses’ disappearance, when he “lies with his fathers.” Meaning g, when an authority figure passes, people’s fears relax to a degree, causing them to “rise” and sin: their instinctual drives rise. 

Why will they follow alien gods? This is because as man cannot not rid himself of a superego; he needs to replace his authority figure, then it was from alien societies. Similarly, 

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him (Exod. 32:1).

The Jews also succumbed to Egyptian idolatry too to gain Egypt’s favor, but only after the 12 sons of Jacob passed away, and not before. One authority figure was replaced by another. The Jew Moses saved informed on Moses, his savior. He had more allegiance to the Egyptian authority than to Moses. All cases express man’s need to gain favor from man.

God then says the Jews will follow the gods “in their midst” as their immediate confrontation with closer cultures arouses their need for approval sooner than from more distant cultures and their gods. 

In the land that they are about to enter” expresses the social dynamic, where the Jews revered the inhabitants and adopted their idolatrous cultures to gain acceptance.

The second cause for sin omits Moses’ passing or alien gods, but mentions “other” Gods. Here, the Jews “growing fat” (success) as the verse says above, fed their egos and this successful self-image ignited a sense of independence. The Jews felt they no longer needed God. Their egos denied Israel was due to God’s promise; they could not feel humbly indebted that “God brought them in to a land flowing with milk and honey.” Rather, they felt arrogant and self-made, attributing their good fortune to themselves. No longer feeling dependent on God, the Jews sought something “other” than God. Why? They needed to maintain some sense of value, so they replaced Judaism with an alien religion. They needed a religious justification for their idolatrous lifestyle (Rabbi Israel Chait). Abandoning religion altogether was not tolerable, so they sought a religious practice that condoned their desires.

The Jews abandoned Moses who had passed, replacing him with alien gods in their mist. And the Jews abandoned God who gave them Israel, replacing Him with “other” gods, where nothing is mentioned of other nations in their midst. These 2 verses teach the irony of they Jews breaking off the yoke of authority (Moses and God) only to seek service to other cultures and other gods. The Jews swapped Moses for an alien people’s god, and they swapped God for other deities. 

God identifies the 2 methods through which man abandons religion: he replaces religious leadership (man/Moses), and he replaces God. Man must replace his leaders and God, as the void of simply living without religion evokes intolerable guilt, for man must always feel justified in his own eyes, and he must always retain some superego/authority. But these two corrupt attitudes can operate simultaneously, as God forecasted to Moses. The Jews would eventually abandon both Moses and God after they entered the land.