Moshe Ben-Chaim
Question: What exactly is idolatry?
Response: I would have to define it in accordance with a Rabbi's explanation: "Relating to G-d through methods foreign to G-d's prescribed modes of worship."
The source, or psychological need which acts of idolatry strive to satisfy, are primal in nature.
The instinct in specific I refer to is the need for an authoritarian, or parental being.
To elaborate, when one is an infant, he views his parents as "super" types of beings. As parents feed, hold, care and nurture the infant, a child develops a strong bond and need for this relationship. As an example of how powerful the need for this attachment is, we may see a lost child with the most fearful look on his face. The fear of having "lost" the parent is a dreadful one, and runs very deep.
Now, what happens as a child grows into an adult? What happens to this need? One of two things may occur;
1) The proper response is that the now grown adult will abandon his view that the parent is no more capable than he. He then moves on with mature concepts of parents. Or, 2) The physically grown adult will not abandon his overestimation of the parents being superior. He wont accept his parents are as he is; human, limited, and frail. What then happens is, this conflict of one realizing his parent's shortcomings, and his strong desire for psychological guidance, will produce projections of authority onto other objects or beings. He will seek replacements for his parents. This in short is the cause for all forms of idolatry. Throughout history we see that people have worshiped stars, animals, totem poles, and other objects non deserving of any such elevation. Nonetheless, these objects maintained high esteem in the eyes of those in need due to the aforementioned reason.
Among the many expressions of idolatry, the Torah includes enchanters, fortune tellers, and other advisors. The Torah categorizes all such projections as false, and as idolatrous. It is against reality, and it is the most harmful of sins one can commit, as one forfeits the most crucial kernel of knowledge one can attain, i.e., There is One G-d, no other object or force of nature is to be elevated to deification.
When one believes there are forces outside of G-d, his entire concept of G-d is corrupt. G-d by definition must be The Singular Existence and Sole Cause of Creation, and control of laws and matter. Assuming this is not true, or even adding gods onto G-d, is a complete denial of G-d's Unique Nature.
Therefore, idolatry - the projection of powers onto anything except G-d - ends up to be not only incorrect regarding the projected object, but the worst sin, as it is the abandonment of the true idea of G-d.
I would add that the error made in projecting powers onto physical objects is an internal contradiction: If we hold that physical objects are created substances, this means that they have no power over themselvess, as they were brought into existence by something other than themselves. To then claim that these very created objects can control anything is a contradiction, and it's the best argument for disproving any assumed powers.

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