Something that has long occupied my curiosity is what the Torah is trying to teach me when it seemingly speaks of other gods.
Parshat Re’eh begins with Moshe placing before the Israelite nation a blessing and a curse. He says the blessing will come when we harken to God’s mitzvot, and “the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day to follow other gods whom you have not known” (Devarim 12:28).
The warning here does not try to get us to deny that there are other powers in the world. Instead, Moshe urges us to only serve The One, the only One. A principle brought down in Rabbinic literature is that when we come upon a non-kosher food, say, bacon, I shouldn’t pronounce, “ugh this is so gross how could anyone eat it?” It is much more powerful to instead say, “indeed, this smells delicious, and I choose to not eat it.”
Rejecting a truth, like saying that bacon doesn’t smell delicious, only opens the potential for idol worship. When we refuse to admit the truth, when we refuse to see powers that exists in the world and the potential to worship them, we are blinded to the fact that there is only one truth. A rejection of the fact that there are other powers potentially worthy of worship only increases the yetzer (desire) to call those powers God.
This is what Moshe is charging us to do – to serve that which is above all else, to serve The One.
I pray that the mitzvot of our tradition can serve as a reminder and a societal blueprint to remember that there is only One. In doing so, we choose a blessing. Shabbat shalom.