Friday, August 26, 2022

Parashat Re'eh: Worshipping Gods You Didn't Know vs. Just Not Worshipping Other Gods

Boker tov and chodesh tov and Shabbat shalom. It's me, again, with another look at the weekly Torah portion from my favorite place in Jerusalem: the shuk!

This week's parashah is Re'eh (Devarim 11:26-16:17), and it's chock full of blessings and curses we've all heard before. But one thing I've noticed though is the repetition of a phrase: 

(singular you) אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתָּ

 (plural you) אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֲחֵרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־יְדַעְתֶּֽם

Gods who you didn't know/haven't experienced

This phrase is used again and again in requests to not listen to others who try and pull you into worshipping "gods you didn't know." The dangers around worshiping "gods you didn't know" or "gods you didn't experience before." All usages are past tense, as well. 

This line appears in Devarim 11:28, 13:3, 13:7, and 13:14.

My immediate thought here is ... does this mean we can worship gods that are new to us? So no idols of Avraham's father but yes to all the others?

Why not just say clearly and definitively, "Don't worship other gods"? Period. Full stop. 

Why the "lo yadata" and "lo yadatem" ... that you didn't know? 

Let's say that the idea here is that the Israelites are supposed to focus on the Gd they do know rather than gods they didn't or don't know. This may be the point of the language because the whole of Sefer Devarim is one big reminder of all the things HaShem did for the Israelites. There is one Gd, HaShem, and He's the end-all, be-all. 

I took you out of Egypt! 

I fed you manna!

I kept you! 

I'm giving you this land!

I promised you'd be numerous as the stars in the sky! 

Look at all I did for you! 

You know me. You didn't know them. You don't know them


It still doesn't sit well with me. There's something uncomfortable about this line that I just don't like or love. Something uncertain and unnecessary. 

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!