Questioning faith in the parsha
Jan. 22, 2011/17 Sh’vat 5771
Modern Author: Shalom Auslander Foreskin’s Lament
KOSHI: HOW do God’s initial commandments frame our Covenant of faith?
v.3 You shall have no other gods besides Me.
RASHI… I might take this to mean that they merely cannot have idols in the future. From this commandment I know that the ones which already exist must be destroyed. The “other gods” are not real gods, but ones whom others have made into gods. The verse cannot be read as if to say: “You shall have no gods other than Me,” for this would be an insult to God. “besides Me,” or the preferable translation here “before Me,” or literally, “in My Presence.”
IBN EZRA… Negative commandments in Torah always involve actions; this is the only one that prohibits a belief. The text uses the words “gods” here solely from the perspective of those who worship them. “besides Me.” That is, once you know that I created everything and My Glory fills all space, you shall have no other gods. It literally means “before My Face,” but is to be interpreted as the phrase used in NUM 3:4 “before the face of their father Aaron.” This then follows the words of one of the wise—‘Do not anger your Master by defying Him to his face.’
RAMBAN… RASHI’s comment [based on the Mechilta] that this statement demands the destruction of idols would make this a separate commandment from V.5, which carries a more severe punishment…The correct interpretation, even according to the P’shat, is that none of the angels or the divine host of heaven are to be our gods. This is the opinion of ONKELOS as well…Know that when the text says “other gods,” it always refers to these beings. Idols are never referred to as if they could be “other gods” [God forbid], but only as “molten gods”—gods only from the perspective of those who made them…Thus the second commandment is that we accept none other than The Lord as our God…
v.4 You shall not make for yourself a graven image…
B’CHOR SHOR…Even for the purposes of worshipping the true God, as the Christians do.
IBN EZRA… “You shall have no other gods” refers to belief, and “You shall not make for yourself,” to belief and to worship. You may not make a sculptured image that you believe is your god, nor may you bow down to one, even if someone forces you to do so.
v.5/6 For I the Lord your God an am impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and the fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep my commandments.
RASHI… He is zealous in exacting punishment, and will not bypass his attribute of judgment to forgive the sin of idolatry. “Visiting the guilt of the parents…” As ONKELOS continues, when the children cling to the ways of their parents.
RAMBAN… Or, “a jealous God.” As MAIMONIDES too says, nowhere in the Bible will you find this term except in connection with God’s anger at idol worship…In my view, this jealousy applies only to Israel, its point being that as Israel is God’s “treasured possession” [19:5] …If they turn to serve others, He would be as jealous as a man whose wife ran off with someone else….
IBN EZRA… Not “visiting it…” but “remembering it.” Having remembered all that the father did, he will not be so patient with the sons.
RAMBAN… “Visiting the guilt…” IBN EZRA takes this to mean “remembering,” in the sense that God remembers the evil done but does not punish until the fourth generation…But this interpretation is not correct. Since the preposition “upon” is used, the verb cannot be remembering; it must mean “visit,” that is, punishing them…In my opinion, it means God punishes the children for the father’s sins, as in Isaiah “Prepare a slaughtering block for the sons for the guilt of their father.” [14:21]
RASHI… The word should be read “alpayim—two thousandth,” showing that God’s Mercy [Rachamim] is 500 times stronger than His Judgment [Din.]
IBN EZRA… “thousandth generation”—That is, forever…The spirit of good will exists forever, and as long as they are good, their descendants will continue to eternity. This is a great and wondrous mystery.
B’CHOR SHOR… Good families can last for a thousand generations, but bad ones won’t make it to the fifth.