Ariel Ben Avraham
Ariel Ben Avraham

Parshat Yitro: From ego’s idolatry to love’s freedom

In our previous commentary on Yitro: “Understanding God’s love” (on February 3, 2015 in this blog) we said that we must have been experienced idolaters in order to receive the Torah.

Hence, our sages explain that without Yitro’s presence at Sinai the Torah wouldn’t have been given to the children of Israel. Likewise, without slavery in Egypt there wouldn’t have been freedom for us from God. In this sense we understand darkness as the prelude to light, and exile as the preamble for redemption.

When we say that we have to fully assimilate the meaning of being an idolater, is because idolatry is the underlying reason for receiving the Torah. We see this reason in the Ten Commandments as well as in the rest of the Torah, from beginning to end.

In this context, let’s reflect again on the Decalogue. The most important Commandment is the first, for it encompasses everything. All that exists comes from God because He is God: “I am the Lord, your God”. He states it in His relationship with us: “Who took you out of the land of Egypt”, indicating that He liberated us “out of the house of bondage” (20:2), a bondage to what is against God’s ways and attributes.

Thus we can understand such bondage to ego’s fantasies and illusions, opposite to love as the material manifestation of God’s love.

Love is the freedom we experience when we separate our consciousness from ego’s agenda. God’s love liberates us from ego’s attachments to materialistic illusions we call idols. Consequently, “You shall not have the gods of others in My Presence.” (20:3). This is the obvious corollary of God’s absolute dominion. Then, as we have said many times, love does not cohabit with anything different or opposite to its ways and attributes.

Love’s ways are the direct opposite of ego’s fantasies and illusions as the false gods that separate us from ourselves and from others. Idolatry is understood as the result of an egotistic approach to life. We become attached to sensual desires, fantasies and illusions in direct proportion to our estrangement from love as our essence and true identity.

The more we focus on our personal benefit at the expense of others and our surroundings, the more we separate from love’s unifying and encompassing ways. Hence the next verse.

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the Heavens above, which is on the Earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth.” (20:4-5)

Considering that God’s love is infinite and all encompassing, there is no room for separation, unless is another illusion we create for ourselves. Thus we understand the exclusivity of God’s ways and attributes, when He calls Himself zealous.

“You shall neither prostrate yourself before them nor worship them for I the Lord, your God, am a zealous God (…)” (20:5)

As long as we bow to material illusions, we deny the Source from where we all come. We live by God, and we owe ourselves to Him. His Name is the Essence we mustn’t neither take for granted, despise or neglect. After all, He is our life from Whom we exist.

“You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold blameless anyone who takes His Name in vain.” (20:7)

As we have remarked, God’s love is our essence and identity, and the Shabbat is one of the names of this identity. As sacred as the Shabbat is, we must sanctify it to make a clear difference between profane and sacred. The Shabbat is the time and space where we dwell permanently in God’s love.

All we wish to experience as the most sublime delight with our Creator is also opposite to ego’s illusions.

“Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (20:8)

The Shabbat, as exclusive as the zeal of God, doesn’t allow thoughts, emotions or feelings attached to the material world, because it is for Him. This includes ego’s fantasies, desires or illusions.

“(…) but the seventh day is a Shabbat for the Lord, your God; [therefore] you shall perform no labor. (…) Therefore, the Lord blessed the Shabbat day and sanctified it.” (20:10-11)

There is no place for attachments to idols that keep us away from Love’s ways and attributes. The message is reaffirmed again in our relationship with our parents, as the bearers of our forefathers’ legacy and inheritance.

“Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, gives you.” (20:12)

This legacy is the permanent bond with our Creator. In this sense we understand the goodness of His ways and attributes as the land He gives us constantly. As long as we honor them, we reject the idols that deny our precious inheritance.

The remaining five Commandments of the Decalogue are specific warnings against falling into the idolatry of negative illusions derived from ego’s false beliefs and feelings of lack.

“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.” (20:13-14)

The magnificence of God’s love is manifest in Moses’ words to the children of Israel.

“But Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, for God has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin’.” (20:17)

God loves us to bring us close to Him. This is the way He exalts (elevates) us to His Presence.

As we experience God’s love, there is no chance to stray away from of His ways and attributes. In God’s love there is no separation or room for the illusions we call sins and transgressions, because there is no lack in love as the material manifestation of God’s love.

If God is with us, what or who could be against? Only our own illusions can separate us from Him. Hence the portion ends, as we said above, with another warning against idolatry.

“You shall not make [images of anything that is] with Me. Gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves.” (20:20)

The Creator reminds us once again that as long as we live by, with, and for His ways and attributes we are blessed by Him, for God is the blessing from Whom all blessings come.

“Wherever I allow My Name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you.” (20:21)

The Prophet reiterates this for us in his vision of the Throne of Glory.

“And one called to the other and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole Earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

Hence as we have said, His glory is His love.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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