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Thou Shalt Have No Other What?

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Topic: Elohim Acharim - Other Gods?

Daniel Serfer from Vermont wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I go to school in Vermont where there are not many Jews and I was never "bar mitzvah-ed," however after law school I intend to be Orthodox. Right now I have a question for you: In the Ten Commandments, at least in my English version, G-d says "You shall have no other gods before Me." Does that mean that other gods exist?

Dear Daniel Serfer,

This is sort of a mistake in translation. The Hebrew word elohim most often refers to G-d, but it is actually a descriptive word meaning "one of power" or "force." Thus, it can also mean an angel (Genesis 32:29) or a powerful leader (Exodus 7:1).

Other forces seem to exist -- wind, fire, radioactivity, electromagnetism, chi, yang, etc. -- so the Torah tells us that they have no independent power. G-d is all powerful and all other forces are merely G-d's "agents" and they should not be deified.

The great commentator Rashi explains that the proper translation is not "other gods" but rather "gods of others." That is, anything that others believe in as a god, we should not.

So, you can believe the sun exists, but don't worship it.

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