Rabbi Shalom Arush in his book The Universal Garden of Emuna in chapter 17, The 7 Noahide Commandments – Spiritual Principles For All Mankind – wrote,
“Those who live according to the Seven Noahide Commandments are not practitioners of other religions for they are direct servants of the Creator…”
When one examines the commandments that the Creator gave us we can see more in depth of what Rabbi is saying. Our first commandment coincides with Israel’s first commandment and that is the prohibition of idolatry.
We are going to take a look at this first prohibition in the way a rabbi friend taught me how to study the Hebrew Scriptures. We will do this through a series of questions.
Prohibition of idolatry:
What is idolatry?
1. The worship of a physical object as a god.
2. Immoderate attachment or devotion to something. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
That is the standard English definition of the word idolatry. But to get a more clear understanding of the word we need to go back to the Hebrew.
The Hebrew words translated into English as idolatry is ‘avodah zara’
What is avodah zara?
Avodah zara in Hebrew means, ‘strange or foreign’ worship.
The Hebrew word ‘avodah’ means “Service – specifically the sacrificial Temple service. Chasidic concept of life dedicated to G-d. (Concise Dictionary of Judaism)
The Hebrew word for servant is ‘oved’ the Hebrew name Ovadiah/Obadiah means ‘servant of G-d’
With all of this what do we find?
We find that biblical idolatry is strange or foreign service.
So our first commandment can be read as, Prohibition of strange or foreign service.
Since we have now learned that our first commandment denotes service then the next logical question would be, who are we to serve?
Rabbi Paquda in his book ‘Duties of the Heart’ teaches us that we have the duty to investigate G-d’ – he goes on to say, “…it is impossible for a thing to have made itself, it must be that the world has a Maker Who started it and brought it into existence.”
Through Jewish tradition we know that Abraham learned the ways of the Creator from Shem, Noah’s son who Abraham was descended from. After the great flood, it would be through Abraham that the world would learn of the One true G-d. The Creator would raise up a nation descended from Abraham to carry on task of serving Him and being a light to the other nations.
“Praises to him whose help is Jacob’s G-d, whose hope is in Hashem, his G-d.” Artscroll Tehillim.
Abraham taught his children the ways of G-d (Gen. 18) , each of his children made the G-d of Abraham their own personal G-d as we find in the above Psalm. The Psalm also show that one who makes Jacob’s G-d his own is worthy of praise.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s G-d was the Creator, the one who brought all things into being. This is who we are to serve.
So the next question is,
How do we serve the Creator?
When Noah was blessing his children, his blessing to Japheth was that he i.e. his descendants would dwell in the tents of Shem. Jewish history teaches us that Jacob dwelled in the tents of Shem. In the tent of Shem one learns the ways and the commandments of the Creator. The Seven Commandments for all man kind are taught and learned.
Today, Israel as Shem’s descendant is the tent of Shem. Zechariah 8 tells us that it is from the Jews we will learn about the Creator. It is through the preserving of the Written and the Oral Torah, the instructions of the Creator, that we have saved for us the Seven Commandments that has been with us since the beginning of Creation.
We become servants of the Creator through the study and observance of our Seven Commandments. These Seven are baseline, meaning they are just the headlines, a starting point. Each commandment has many sub commandments and expected moral observance that go with each one.
Now that we know what is expected of us then what is the strange or foreign service that we are prohibited from doing?
First off it should be obvious that the service or worship of false deities, a person or any object of the creation as a god is prohibited.
Second, there are specific commandments given to Israel only, we are not permitted to use any of those commandments in our service – as they are strange and foreign to us and would be strange for us to serve the Creator in ways that He has not commanded us.
The Torah gives us a perfect example of strange and foreign worship.
The sons of Aaron were very righteous men but they thought they could worship the Creator with any imagination that came to mind. They were struck down by the Creator and the Torah tells us why, Lev. 10:1 “they offered strange fire before G-d which He had not commanded them.”
As stated in the quote I began with, we that observe the Seven Noahide Commandments for all mankind are not practitioners of any religion. We go directly to the Creator and observe His commandments – there are no other deities or intermediator between us and the Creator. He is our Commander and Chief and we report to no one or thing but to Him alone.
There is so much more that can be written on the first commandment.
The very essence of the first commandment the Prohibition of strange or foreign service is this – we are prohibited in serving the Creator in ways that He had not commanded us.
we are prohibited in serving the Creator in ways that He had not commanded us.
It is through the observance of this first commandment the Prohibition of idolatry that we become servants of the Creator. It is the line in the sand so to speak.
I will end here with another quote from the Tehillim/Psalms
“…His praise in the congregation of the devout.”
The Artscroll commentary on this verse states, “In the future, it will become evident, that the recital of G-d’s praises is a privilege reserved only for the truly deserving. The genuine devotees of G-d will congregate to share their experiences, and they will be grateful for the opportunity to declare His praise.”