Rabbi Oury Cherki
Ekev - G-d of All Gods
The belief in “yichud” – G-d as something unique and special, with nothing else that can be compared to Him – raises a fair amount of difficulties when we try to understand the verses in the Bible. The straightforward language of the Bible implies that there are a number of deities, where G-d is directly related to the Children of Israel and He demands that they serve only Him, while other nations can expect a tolerant attitude if they worship their own deities.
One possible reaction to this idea is to say that all the references to foreign gods have been written from the point of view of the other nations, but that in fact there is nothing real about them at all. We would then say that all the existing idol worship is a result of a seriously marred logic by these people. This explanation of the facts appears very strongly in the words of the prophets near the time of the destruction of the First Temple and during the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah – and also Daniel – repeatedly describe the gods of other nations as falsehoods and foolishness.
Even though this approach, which has been prominently held by the Children of for many generations, has a lot of truth to it, by itself it may not be sufficient to calm us when we read the many verses. It might be simpler to accept as the straightforward meaning of the verses the approach of the masters of Kabbalah, who are willing to accept that the spiritual powers worshipped by the other nations are real in some sense. For example, see what Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla wrote in his book, “Sha'arei Orah”:
“You must not believe the empty words of some ignorant people who insist that the gods of the other nations have no power and that the name ‘god’ is not relevant for them. Rather, know that G-d, Blessed be He, put power into the hands of every leader of the other nations, to judge his nation and his land. And such leaders are called ‘god’ in view of the fact that they rule and judge the people of their lands”.
This approach can be used to explain a difficult verse in this week’s Torah portion: “Your G-d is the G-d of all gods and the Master of all masters” [Deuteronomy 10:17].
Based on the Kabbalah, Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou) explained this as follows: G-d, who is the G-d of Israel and directly supervises them, is, for the other nations, the G-d of all gods and the Master of all masters.
This commentary of the masters of the Kabbalah seems at first glance to contradict the explicit prohibition to of idol worship even for Gentiles who have accepted the Seven Mitzvot of Bnei Noach. However, it seems that there is a status similar to “a person who was kidnapped as a baby” among the other nations of the world (and who is therefore ignorant of the mitzvot which obligate him or her), and therefore the prophets did not rebuke the other nations for idol worship that took place outside of the Land of Israel. This was also written by Rabeinu Bechayei: “We have not found in the entire Torah that the other nations were rebuked for idol worship, and only Israel were rebuked, because they are specifically linked to Him. And similarly we have not seen that the other nations were punished for idol worship that did not take place within the Holy Land” [Deuteronomy 31].
Thus, the progress of history as it is seen in the holy writings is that the various gods will be eliminated in the distant future. And that is how Rashi interpreted the verse of “Shema Yisrael” – “Listen, Israel: G-d, who is now our G-d and not that of the other nations – will one day be the unique G-d” [Deuteronomy 6:4].