Wisdom: The Better Answer

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim & Dani Roth

“Lest you lift your eyes heavenward, and you see the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, and bow to them and serve them, that God your God allotted to all peoples under heaven” (Deut. 4:19).  (Talmud Avodah Zara 55a)

Based on this verse, I explained in last week’s Jewishtimes issue (Feb. 24, 2023) that Moses rejected idolatry, by saying the luminaries were “allotted to all peoples.” My meaning was that there is no favoritism. The belief that worshiping a luminary will favor you and benefit you is false since the luminaries are allotted to all people with the same function of providing light. This equal allotment means they do not favor individuals, as they are inanimate, despite peoples’ beliefs that sun worship will better improve their lives. 

I asked Dani Roth how he learned the verse, and he said the rejection of idolatry is because here, God says that He controls the luminaries: “He allotted them” means He controls them. Therefore it is foolish to worship the sun, stars or moon, as there is something greater that controls them. We should worship the greater entity.

Dani’s answer is superior to mine, as Dani shows a primary reason not to worship the luminaries: God controls them, which refutes their status as a deity: a being that is not controlled by anything else. While both answers are true, my answer is based on the luminaries themselves, that they have limited powers. But Dani’s answer shows a primary reason to reject the luminaries in the greater context of their rank in the universe. 

Dani’s answer includes the complete scope of all reality; the better answer is always the one that explains more. Rabbi Israel Chait asked, “Who has greater knowledge of the human cell: a scientist or Moses?” He said Moses does. Since Moses understands the greater philosophy of the universe, he understands the role of the human cell better. In Moses’ mind, a cell contributes to the health of a human being, which contributes to his ability to study Torah and come closer to God. This is man’s purpose, and the purpose of all that sustains man. But to the scientist, a cell is defined strictly within the context of the body: the cell contributes to human health, and nothing more. But by not appreciating the greater universal of man’s purpose in God’s plan, the scientist fails to see the ultimate and true purpose of a cell, which is to enable human beings to recognize the Creator. Thus, when we explain any phenomenon in the greater context, we explain more. 

I explained the deficiency in the luminaries only in the context of the luminaries’ abilities. Whereas Dani explained their deficiency in the context of total reality. Thank you Dani for your wise insight.