The Bible Says What? God commands we build idols!
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here
Analysis

The Bible Says What? God commands we build idols!

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and looks at a Reform response

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

We all know we aren’t meant to build idols. So it can be confusing to see Aaron assisting the Israelites in building a golden calf, cherubim adorning the ark in the Mishkan, and, in parashat Chukkat, the erection of a giant copper snake. 

The giant snake follows on from an unfortunate reoccurrence of
Israelite moaning. They are beset by a plague of burning snakes until they relent and beg Moses to ask God to make it stop. Which he does. The burning snakes are replaced by a giant statue of a copper snake, at which everyone is instructed to look up. On doing so, those who have been bitten are healed. It seems like a very short jump from this to idolatry! 

But it was God who commanded the building of the snake. Why would God command the Israelites to build an idol of an animal?

Ever since the Garden of Eden, the snake has been associated with the yetzer ha’ra – the evil inclination. The yetzer ha’ra can lead us down the wrong path, or it can be the small voice in our head causing self-doubt and an inability to complete anything. 

This kind of inner saboteur can be soul-destroying and crushing and can create a huge distance between us and those around us, and between us and God. 

The yetzer ha’ra that caused the Israelites to grumble and moan may have been as much about their own self-doubt and fear, which in turn created a spiritual black hole.

By building a giant version of their yetzer ha’ra in their midst, they were not only reminding themselves of where they went wrong, but they are being asked to face their fears head-on – which is sometimes the only way to deal with fear.

  •  Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers serves Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments