"Rabbi Hiyya said that Terah, the father of Abram (whom God later renamed Abraham) manufactured idols. One time, when Terah went away and left Abram to mind the store, a man came and asked to buy an idol. Abram asked the man how old he was. The man replied that he was 50 years old. Abram exclaimed that it was a shame that a man of 50 would worship a day-old object. The man became embarrassed and left. On another occasion, a woman came with a plate of flour and asked Abram to offer it to the idols. Abram took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the largest idol's hand. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abram explain what he had done. Abram told Terah that the idols fought among themselves to be fed first, and the largest broke the others with the stick." (Genesis Rabba 38:13)
The above Midrash is one of the most frequently cited ones on last week's Parshah, Lekh Lekha, where Abraham begins his journey away from his birthplace, his father's land, to a land that God will show him. In this Midrash the Rabbis caricature idol-worship as a simple-minded belief and worship of a physical statute has some kind of magical super-powers. While many traditions, including our own, revere certain physical symbols and use them in the process of religious worship, it's not clear to me that any religion actually thinks that those items are G-d in and of themselves. On the other hand, we all worship idols in one form or another, whether that is in the form of money, power, convenience or pleasure. We worship idols any time any ONE thing or idea, becomes so central and rigid that it takes on the importance and reverence due to that which Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel refers to as the Ineffable, that which is beyond words, and includes all things, ideas, and words!
Our Parshah and its Midrash does something very radical in its criticism of Idol Worship. Inside of a tradition which reveres ideas passed on for generations, it not only gives us permission but encourages us to inquire and interrogate which of the ideas passed on from our ancestors may have calcified and turned into idols! After all, idol worship is limited neither to ancient wooden figurines (Idols), nor to the latest and fastest electronic gadgets (Iphones).
This Week's Challenge: What are the things and ideas in your life, whether passed down through the generations or picked up in recent years, which have taken on unproportional importance in your life, which have calcified into idols, and now stand in the way of your highest values and ideals? Once you identify what those are, you can but don't have to smash them. You can also give them the reverence that is their due for their service to you in times past, and then step out beyond them to see what other Potential life has to offer...