We Don't Worship Human Beings: Part 1



Today, February 15th, is the seventh day of Adar, According to Jewish tradition, Moshe Rabbeinu - Moses, Our Teacher - was born on the seventh day of Adar, and this was also the day when he passed away after a life of 120 years. In this letter, we will discuss the following universal lesson which we are to learn from his life: We are to worship Hashem, the Compassionate One, and not human beings.


Dear Friends.


Anyone familiar with the mythology of the ancient world knows that it was not unusual for a people to describe their founder or redeemer as a god or the son of a god. The Torah, however, provides a striking contrast to this pagan outlook by emphasizing that Moshe was a human being who was the child of human beings. For example, the Torah describes the birth of Moshe in the following manner:


“A man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son.” (Exodus 2:1,2)


And when the redemption of Israel was about to begin, the Torah interrupts the story by recounting the genealogy of Moshe and Aharon - another reminder of their human origin and nature (Exodus 6:14-27). In his commentary on this genealogy, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:




“Right from the earliest times it has occurred that human beings who were outstanding benefactors to their people, were, after their death, divested of their human image and, because of their ‘godlike’ feats, were invested with a ‘Divine’ origin. We all know of a certain Jew in later times, whose genealogical record was not available, and because it was not available, and because he brought people a few sparks of light borrowed from the man Moshe, he came to be considered by the nations as begotten of God; to doubt his divinity became a capital crime.


“Our Moshe was human, remained human, and will never be anything but human. When his countenance had already had become radiant from what he was allowed to see of God; when he already brought the Torah from heaven, and he had already miraculously led the people through the wilderness and won for them victories of God, God here commanded him to present his genealogical record and thereby affirm the fact that, on the day that God first spoke to Moshe in the land of Egypt, everyone knew his parents and grandparents, his uncles and aunts and all his cousins. They knew his whole lineage and all his relatives. For eighty years they had known him as a man of flesh and blood, subject to all the failings and weaknesses, worries and needs of human nature – a human being like all the other human beings among whom he had been born and raised.


“It is written: These are Aharon and Moshe…These are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh…these are Moshe and Aharon (Exodus 6:26,27). They were flesh and blood like all other human beings, and God chose them to be His instruments in the performance of His great work…


“This ‘certificate of origin’ is meant to negate in advance and forevermore any erroneous deification, any illusion of an incarnation of Deity in human form. It is meant to uphold this truth: Moshe, the greatest human being of all time, was just a human being, and the position he attained before God was not beyond the reach of mortal human beings.” (Commentary to 6:14-30)




The Torah states that Hashem buried Moshe and that “no man knows his burial place to this day” (Deut. 34:6). Rabbi Hirsch explains that a reason Moshe's burial place was not revealed is because Hashem did not want the People of Israel to emulate their pagan neighbors who develop a cult of worship at the graves of their great leaders whom they deify (commentary to 34:6). We are therefore to put our faith in the Compassionate One and not in any human being, as it is written:


“Do not rely on nobles, nor on a human being, for he holds no salvation. When his spirit departs, he returns to his earth; on that day his plans perish. Praiseworthy is one whose help is in Jacob's God, whose help is in Hashem, his God. He is the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the sea and all that is in them; He safeguards truth forever. He does justice for the exploited; He gives bread to the hungry. Hashem releases the bound.” (Psalm 146:3-7)


Be Well and Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen


Related Teachings:


1. The Torah tells us that “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19).


2. The Passover Haggadah stresses that Hashem redeemed us, and not an angel or human being; in fact, the role of Moshe is not even mentioned in the Haggadah, in order to reinforce this message. (The ArtScroll Haggadah by Rabbi Joseph Elias, page 60)


3. Rabbi Hirsch, in his commentary on Exodus 6:14, explains that although Moshe was only a human being, he was chosen to be the leader of Israel because he was a worthy candidate. The Torah calls Moshe a “servant of Hashem” (Deuteronomy 34:5); moreover, the Torah indicates that there will never arise in Israel a prophet like Moshe (Deuteronomy 34:10).


4. There is a mitzvah which prohibits us from deifying and worshiping any object, being, or power other than the Compassionate One Who created the Universe, as it is written: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The deification of any fragment of creation - whether it be an aspect of nature, a human being, a nation, or humanity itself - can cause human beings to lose their consciousness of the unity and common origin of all creation. The classical work on the Torah’s mitzvos known as “Sefer HaChinuch” discusses this mitzvah, and it remind us that this mitzvah is also part of the universal code which all humanity must keep (Mitzvah 26). This mitzvah is included in “The Thirteen Principles of Faith” compiled by Maimonides. A brief summary of these 13 principles appears in the “Siddur” – classical Jewish prayer book.


5. We are to believe in the oneness and unity of the Compassionate One Who created the Universe, as it is written: “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One!” (Deut. 6:4). Regarding this mitzvah, the Sefer HaChinuch states: “Hashem, the Blessed One – the One Who produced all existence – is the Master of all; One, without any partnership” (Mitzvah 417). The basic principle of this mitzvah is meant for all humankind; thus, the Sefer HaChinuch adds: “The root purpose of this mitzvah is known, since it is the core element of the faith of all human beings” (ibid). This mitzvah is also included in “The Thirteen Principles of Faith” compiled by Maimonides.

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