Parashat Vaethanan- We All Have a Piece of God Inside Us
In Parashat Vaethanan, Moshe reiterates the prohibition against idolatry, issuing a particular warning against bowing to the celestial bodies – the sun, the moon and the stars (4:19).
One might wonder, why does the Torah strictly forbid giving honor to the sun and the moon? After all, they, like everything in nature, are servants of God. If the secretary of the President of the United States would visit us, wouldn’t we treat her with honor? Even if she’s only a secretary, she nevertheless deserves special respect by virtue of her position as the President’s personal secretary. Why doesn’t this apply to God’s "secretaries"? What’s wrong with giving honor to the sun and the moon?
Truth be told, this is precisely how idolatry started in the ancient world. People began giving homage to the sun, moon and stars, recognizing their stature as God’s servants. With time, however, they forgot about God, and looked to the creations in the sky as divine beings. But what is inherently evil about giving honor to the celestial beings if one does so to express honor to God Himself?
Rav Moshe Alshich (Safed, 1508-1593) explained that bowing to anything besides God is strictly forbidden because every person has some of God within him. Each and every human being has within him or her a Neshama, a soul, which is part of God. When a person inflates a balloon by blowing into it, part of him, his breath, is inside that balloon. Similarly, God "blows" a soul into a body to create a human being. As such, every person contains within him a part of God.
If a person bows to something, even something as exalted and prominent as the sun, he defames God. He creates a situation where God is bowing before one of His servants. This is why idolatry is so disgraceful – even if a person intends to honor God by bowing to a physical entity. Such an act causes God to bow before something He created, and this is a grave infraction upon God’s honor.
How might this concept apply to us, who do not worship the sun or the moon and have no intention of doing so?
The lesson of the Alshich’s insight is that any transgression we commit constitutes a grave desecration of the Almighty’s Name. We generally associate the term "Hilul Hashem" (desecrating God’s Name) with public misconduct, which dishonors the Torah and the Jewish people. Indeed, public wrongdoing certainly constitutes a "Hilul Hashem," but sins committed in private also belong to this category. When a person transgresses, he takes his soul, he takes part of God, and uses it for something that God considers abominable. By sinning, we force God Himself, as it were, to violate His own creed. Even if one sins in the privacy of his own home with nobody around him, He defames God’s honor by causing Him, so-to-speak, to act wrongfully.
The concept of the Neshama, of the part of God within every person, should serve as a great source of pride and self-esteem. Every person must recognize that he or she is someone important, as the Almighty Himself resides within him or her. This knowledge and awareness will lead us to always act and speak in a manner befitting a Godly creature and prevent us from falling prey to our sinful instincts. If we keep in mind that God resides within us, we look at ourselves and our lives differently, we take ourselves more seriously, and we ensure to conduct ourselves with respect and dignity.
We are all part of God – and this is precisely how we should always look at ourselves, and precisely how we should always act.