Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Avoda Zara 54b - Challenge of Philosophers to Avoda Zara

The mishna and gemara elaborate about discussions that took place between philosophers and the chachamim regarding avoda zara and why G-d wouldn't eradicate them if they were truly worthless. The Rambam in his commentary on the mishna launches into an elaborate reiteration of his opinion that all forms of idolatry and magic are powerless and false. One shouldn't believe that they have power but are forbidden, rather they are powerless and all nonsense. The gr"a in his commentary on shulchan aruch rejects this Rambam very strongly because following the approach of the rambam, if one is convinced that they truly possess power they would be drawn after it. Therefore, the Gr"a prefers the safer approach that even if the avoda zara could indeed demonstrate power, one is obligated to reject it. The story between Zonin (who rashi says was a Jew, but the maharsha says was a goy who was willing to admit that avoda zara is nonsense) and R. Akiva 55a seems to support the Rambam. Zonin challenged R. Akiva by asking how the crippled and lame would visit the avoda zara and return healthy. R. Akiva responded that it came time for the suffering to leave and wasn't connected to the avoda zara. This seems to support the opinion of the Rambam because according to the gr"a R. Akiva should have responded that although they have power, we aren't allowed to use that power. There is another story where Rava bar rav yizchok pointed out that the avoda zara seemed to possess the power of rain (for slaughtering human sacrifices it would send rain). R. Yehuda responded by darshening the pasuk - אשר חלק השם אלקיך אותם לכל העמים, that Hashem allowed them to do this in order to destroy them from the world. The Rambam would interpret this that they are misled to think that their sacrifice is the cause of the rain, but the gr"a would interpret that they may indeed have the power to bring rain but that power was only given to them so that the wicked who are drawn after them will err and be wiped out.
There are two stories where goyim challenge the notion of G-d being an א-ל קנא. jealous and vengeful. The philosopher who confronts R. Gamliel (54b) asked why Hashem is has קנאה (jealousy) against those who worship the avoda zara and not the avoda zara itself. But, Agriphas the general who confronts R. Gamliel (55a) asks how Hashem can be jealous of an inanimate object that possess no power - כלום מתקנא אלא חכם בחכם, וגבור בגבור, ועשיר בעשיר. Maharsha explains that there are two forms of קנאה: a. jealousy over an atribute such as wisdom or strength motivated by a desire for that attribute. b. vengeful over the choice of nonsense over something of value. Agriphas made the mistake of thinking that Hashem was actually jealous over the avoda zara itself because He desired it's attributes. R. Gamliel responded that it is not possible because the avoda zara possess nothing that Hashem is missing. Rather, Hashem was zealous and vengeful over the ability of a powerless avoda zara to draw klal yisroel. He wasn't jealous of the avoda zara, but rather angry at klal yisroel for being drawn after something so powerless. However, when the philosopher confronts R. Gamliel he fully understood that Hashem isn't jealous of the attributes of the avoda zara but asked why Hashem takes out his anger against the worshipers and not the actual idol. To that R. Gamliel responds with the parable of a prince who mocks his father by calling a dog by the name of his father - his anger is at his son, not the dog. Hashem doesn't value or give any acknowledgement to the avoda zara, and therefore ignores it even when he lets out His anger (as he demonstrated from the fire that burned all the homes but not the church). Hashem only values the Jews and takes out his wrath on them for worshiping the avoda zara, while ignoring the avoda zara itself.

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