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Nitzavim-Vayelekh Sermon

…For parents the greatest worries are matters of life and death. For God’s Torah the greatest danger is idolatry. The idolatry of other nations was apparently very compelling. It stood in stark contrast to the religion of ancient Israel. Idolatry is about the concrete. You can hold the object of your worship in your hands. You can touch it. You can see it. Believing in one God is abstract. You cannot see God. You cannot touch God. In the Torah’s and the tradition’s eyes idols were everywhere and an everyday temptation.

This is why they counseled us to make friends with the righteous and wise. This is why we warn our children, “Watch out for those other kids.” Is this warning effective for our children? Do they listen to such words? Perhaps instead we should honestly discuss with our children (and ourselves) what are the temptations that must be avoided. Let us give them specific names. Let us name those things which have too much power over our hearts. What are today’s idols?

The most prevalent idol is not an object. It is instead anger. It is this emotion that we allow to have too much power over our hearts.  Moses Maimonides suggested that anger is an idol because we let it rule our lives. An idol is anything to which we ascribe too much importance. This is anger. It is common to all. Everyone is taken in by anger. We bow down to it.  We worship at the altar of indignation.  We allow it to take over our souls. At times we are unable to even see those we love and those who love us because we are blinded by anger.

This idol of anger has become even more prevalent in our own day and age because instead of surrounding ourselves with the righteous and wise we surround ourselves with like-minded people. We only talk to those who agree with us. But the true measure of true friendship is telling someone when they are wrong.  It is telling them when we disagree with them. Anger is fueled by agreeing friends. “Yes, you are so right. You were wronged.” are the refrains of the like-minded.  Anger is instead overcome by loving disagreements.

Let us banish anger from our hearts.  Let us smash the idols!