By Ariel Ben Avraham.
Ego’s fantasies and illusions correspond to idolatry as Love’s ways and attributes correspond to real freedom. In this sense, idolatry is the opposite of freedom. As long as we are bowed to anything that undermines freedom, we are caught in it. We can call it a negative approach to life, addictions, bad habits or lower passions derived from a false belief or feeling of lack.
These are the “false gods” of the “nations” that we are commanded to reject, subjugate, conquered and destroy: “You shall not prostrate yourself before their gods, and you shall not worship them, and you shall not follow their practices, but you shall tear them down and you shall utterly shatter their monuments.” (Exodus 23:24) as part of a previous warning about this: “Concerning all that I have said to you you shall beware, and the name of the gods of others you shall not mention; it shall not be heard through your mouth.” (23:13)
This portion of the Torah contains several laws as Commandments which are preceded by warnings against idolatry (at the end of the previous portion) and followed by similar warnings as mentioned above. We have said that one of the fundamental messages of the Torah is the condemnation of idolatry as the main obstacle to experience higher consciousness, aimed to connect us permanently with our Creator. We see this from beginning to end in the Torah. From the transgression in the Garden of Eden, regarded as a “fall” into ego’s desires, fantasies and illusions (represented by the serpent’s seduction of Eve). Ego’s idolatry of its self-centered approach to existence as experienced by the generation of the Flood. Ego’s enlargement of its self-conception as god in the generation of the Tower of Babel. More idolatry in the times of Abraham, and more egocentric obsession with Pharaoh in Egypt, the Golden Calf, and more varying idolatrous conceptions up to our current times.
We must learn from our expertise in ego’s controlling ways in our own individual lives, as well as from culture, fashion, ideologies, beliefs, behavioral patterns, obsessions, habits and addictions. We have to know in depth the false gods we worship, and the idols we serve. In this process we will be able to discern fantasies and illusions as the result of our own invention, out of a feeling of lack. We have said many times that the “sin” in the Garden of Eden was the result of the false belief of lack out of ego’s desire to become its own god. Once we can tell the real origin of our fantasies and illusions, we will be able to recognize that Love as the material manifestation of God’s Love is our true Essence and identity. Once we recognize that without Love we are dead in the mirages of ego’s illusions, we will be able to return to what is truly real.
This is why the Torah tells us that there are laws that make us understand the Ten Commandments given in the preceding portion. We have to reiterate that Love’s ways and attributes contain their own ethics. Love isn’t Love without its principles and values. There is a way to love, and this way is universally applied to those who say they love. This is how we reject and condemn those who try to exempt themselves from judgment, when they claim obeying orders to justify murdering innocent people. These are the same people who, based on wicked ideologies, hate, instigate and perpetrate mass murder. In their cynicism they also claim to love their country, their spouses and their children. Thus we understand that their wicked ideas, destructive beliefs and negative feelings are the gods and idols they worship, in which they become. See our commentaries on parshat Mishpatim: “The Laws of God’s Love” of January 23, 2011 and “Torah’s Laws as God’s Love” of February 12, 2012 in this blog.
King David opens our eyes to awaken from ego’s inventions: “They [idols] have hands, but they don’t feel. They have feet, but they don’t walk, neither do they speak through their throat. Those who make idols end up like them. So does everyone who trusts them.” (Psalms 115:7-8), and our Prophets reaffirm his words: “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation (…)” (Habakkuk 2:18), “Those who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.” (Isaiah 44:9)
The lesson of idolatry is to make us return to the true reality God is: “And you shall worship the Lord, your God, and He will bless your food and your drink, and I will remove illness from your midst.” (Exodus 23:25) because He is the blessing from which all blessings come: “There will be no bereaved or barren woman in your land; I will fill the number of your days.” (23:26) Again God’s Love reminds us that He does not cohabit with anything different from His ways and attributes: “You shall not form a covenant for them or for their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they cause you to sin against Me, that you will worship their gods, which will be a snare for you.” (23:33)
The laws in this portion teach us that life is a learning process from slavery to freedom. In our previous commentaries on this portion we said that our Sages explain these laws not to justify or promote slavery, but to understand it as the service people must perform after losing the privilege of leading their own lives. They explain further indicating that slavery must be understood as the service necessary to regain individual freedom. In this context, the masters to whom one was sold are the teachers, rules and norms we must assimilate in order not to fall into a negative situation that makes us lose our freedom. In this sense freedom is the privilege to conduct our lives in Love’s ways and attributes, and not in the negative trends of ego’s desires, fantasies and illusions. In this sense, we understand that Love is our freedom as long as we live in the laws and ordinances of its ways and attributes, opposite to idolatry as slavery under ego’s domains.
- Ariel Ben Avraham
- Haifa, Southern Galilee, Israel
- Ariel Ben Avraham (f. Zapata) was born in Cartagena, Colombia in 1958. After studying Cultural Anthropology in Bogotá moved to Chicago in 1984 where he worked as a television writer, reporter and producer for 18 years. In the 1990’s he produced video documentaries related to art, music, history and culture such as “Latin American Trails: Guatemala” distributed by Facets.org. Most of his life he studied ancient spiritual traditions and mysticism of major religions, understanding the mystic experience as the individual means to connect with Divinity. Since 2004 he studies and writes about Jewish mysticism and spirituality mainly derived from the Chassidic tradition, and the practical philosophy of the teachings of Jewish mystic Sages. The book “God as Love” is the compilation of his last years studying and learning Jewish mysticism, and the messages of the book are part of the content, exercises and processes of a series of seminars, lectures and retreats that he facilitates in Israel.