2 Severe Sins

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Torah laws might, on the surface, appear primitive. But as Torah is never to be altered (Deut. 13:1), God thereby teaches that every verse applies to all generations. We recently read of the prohibitions against eating blood and idolatry. Maimonides directs us to a fundamental:

“I will set my face against that soul that eats blood” (Lev. 17:10). The same language is employed in reference to him who giveth of his seed unto Molech (idolatry): “then I will set my face against that man” (ibid. 20:3,6). There is, besides idolatry and eating blood, no other sin in reference to which these words are used. For the eating of blood leads to a kind of idolatry, to the worship of spirits (Guide, book III, chap. XLVII).

Maimonides explains the appeal of blood:

There were, however, people who objected to eating blood, as a thing naturally disliked by man; they killed a beast, received the blood in a vessel or in a pot, and ate of the flesh of that beast, while sitting round the blood. They imagined that in this manner the spirits would come to partake of the blood which was their food, whilst the idolaters were eating the flesh; that love, brotherhood, and friendship with the spirits were established, because they dined with the latter at one place and at the same time: that the spirits would appear to them in dreams, inform them of coming events, and be favorable to them (Ibid.). 

Maimonides distinctly states that the goal of these idolaters was “to be favored by spirits.” As Maimonides says, “the Israelites were inclined to continue their rebellious conduct, to follow the doctrines in which they had been brought up (in Egypt)…to assemble round the blood in order to meet the spirits. God forbade this, commanding the blood be poured out upon the altar, and the people not assemble round about it… “that they shall no longer offer their sacrifices unto the spirits” (Lev. 17:5-7).  “They sacrificed unto spirits, not to God” (ibid. 17). Maimonides says, “According to the explanation of our Sages, the words lo eloha (not to God) imply the following idea: They have not only continued worshipping things in existence; they even worshipped imaginary things. This is expressed in Sifri as follows: “It is not enough for them to worship the sun, the moon, the stars; they even worship their shadow.”  All things have a shadow, except the luminaries, which project light and cannot have a shadow. Therefore, to believe that the luminaries have shadows, is to believe in imaginary things.

But as there are so many foolish superstitions and beliefs, why does Maimonides single-out idolatry and blood eating as most severe? He does so, as God does so: “I will set My face against that man” is found only in connection with blood eating and idolatry.

Blood and Idolatry: A Unique Crime

We find a unique element only with blood and idolatry: in both, man imagines there exists “a will other than God.” He believes either in spirits that favor man, or in another god. But superstitions like fearing black cats, broken mirrors, horoscopes, and the like, do not assume another powerful “being,” but assume there are “forces,” like natural forces or laws. To be clear, the belief in spirits connected with blood and the belief in idols both assume there exists a willful being other than God. But all other superstitions are beliefs in powers like natural laws.

Why, then, does God say He will “set his face against” these two sinners alone? What is the gravity of these two sins? 

It is a far greater crime to add to the cause of the universe (belief in spirits and idols), than to add to the laws of nature through superstitions. Rashi says of one who serves idols, “I shall turn away from everything else that I am occupied with, and will busy Myself with him alone” (Lev. 20:3). Of course this is anthropomorphic; God does not operate in time. But what Rashi means is that if God will “stop what He's doing,” there must be the greatest sin in these crimes to deserve His attention. Belief in additional forces, although false, does not assume more gods. But belief in spirits and in idols, denies the most fundamental idea that God is one, that He is the “only” cause for all that exists. An error in terms of what God is, is far worse than an error in how He created nature. Our very definition of God is that He is the only cause of the universe. Once we assume other beings exist, we no longer have any true concept of God.

The core error of blood and idolatry, is a belief sustained even through today: man imagines more gods: ancient man worshipped the luminaries, spirits and animals, the Jews believed in the Gold Calf, Pharaoh feared the heavens and the dessert and today, false religions and idolatry arose where people believed in witches, ghosts, and that a man became God. Torah doe not expire. As man remains the same with all his false beliefs, Torah applies always. The lesson here is that there are levels of severity, and erring about what God is (addition al gods), is more severe than erring about what He created (superstitions). 

Man believes fallacies, what are mere imaginations. This applies to the belief in forces—superstitions—and in beings other than God. Belief in imagination is foolish. If man would test his opinions against what he sees, what his mind tells him, and Torah’s words, he would immediately abandon his false beliefs. 

Thus, the response that God “sets his face against that person” is perfect because it now shows that the spirit or the idol the person believed in is truly defenseless against God’s punishments. It exposes this false belief.