2014-07-20 – “Avodah Zarah” is the ancient rabbinic term for idolatry. It means something like “strange worship.” But I’m translating it as “strange beliefs” as it seems to make more sense for our times.
I got thinking about avodah zarah after seeing a peculiar video circulating on the Internet. It’s about the “prophesy” of a child named Nachman who, in the year 872 CE (if my math is correct), was born speaking secret knowledge of the Kabalah. Seeking to stop the baby from divulging more secrets, the father, Rabbi Pinchas, slapped the baby causing him to become mute. After many years, Nachman’s mother begged Pinchas to take the child off mute. Pinchas said that, if the child spoke more secrets, he would die. Nachman’s mother said that she wished for the boy to speak. Pinchas warned the boy to disguise the secrets he knew when he spoke of them and restored the boy’s speech.
The crux of the story is that the boy wrote a series of rhymed quatrains that constitute a disguised prophesy of the end of days. Then he died. The key prophesy is that the destruction of the Colossus of Rhodes would be a sign of the return of the Messiah Son of David and the end of days.
(If you want to watch this video, let me warn you that it is 15 minutes long and mostly in Hebrew with English subtitles. The video quality is low. But it comes with scary music, which should convince you of its authenticity.)
Inasmuch as the Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed in 226 BCE, more than a thousand years before the birth of the child Nachman, a convoluted argument is developed to assert that Nachman wasn’t referring to the old Colossus, but to the New Colossus, which is the Statue of Liberty. (Check out the poem “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus which is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Cue spooky music.)
According to this interpretation of the oracle of Nachman, when the Statue of Liberty is destroyed, we are to expect the immanent appearance of the messiah.
Doesn’t this require us to watch a statue to learn the divine plan? Isn’t this classic idolatry? Isn’t this avodah zarah (a strange belief) in and of itself?
We live with heartbreak. We’re all looking for easy answers. The prohibition of idolatry is about confusing symbols for truth.
We see it in America where people claim to revere the Bible, without really knowing what is in it and certain that proclaiming their fealty will save them without living a life of loving their neighbors. Or we see it in Members of Congress who keep copies of the Constitution in their breast pockets but regularly vote for laws that contradict it.
Idolatry worships a red rose but does not love.
They are strange beliefs.