Anochi – Ego and Idolatry

Question

Rabbi JJ Hecht wrote that the real meaning of what Moshe said when he heard, from Mount. Sinai, the noise of the people worshiping the Calf: “Kol Anot Anochi Shomea” (32:18) is: “I hear them shouting: ‘Anochi!’ (Anochiyut!)”;

[I hear the voice of selfish preoccupation (Anochiyut; egoism, egotism), the voice of arrogant selfishness].

Looking at the words: “Anochi HaShem Eloheichem – אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ ” (Shemot 20:2 & 20:5, Devarim 5:6 & 5:9)” I noticed that on the one hand HaShem emphasizes that we should serve Him while on the other hand using the exact same words HaShem emphasizes that one cannot serve others ( כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא). This reminded me of two great teachings:

And G-d said to Moshe: “Hew for yourself (Psal Lecha) two tablets of stone”, (Exodus 34:1). And “Do not make for yourself a hewn image (lecha pesel)”, Exodus 20:4.

I can’t remember the source but I once heard that: the key to understand the difference if on where we place the word ‘lecha (yourself)’. Because in the first occassion, in the oreder of the sentence, the carving comes first, and ‘yourself’ is secondary. While in the commandment against idolatry, on the other hand, ‘yourself’ comes first, and the carving is secondary. The difference is that in one occassion we make our ego secondary to our service. While in the second occassion we place our ego first and let us create our own image on how to live.

Likewise there is this drash on Devarim 5:5 where the words: “I (Anochi) stand between HaShem and between you…” are taken to mean that our (Anochiyus) I-ness, ego, self-centeredness, is the screen that separates between human and the Divine. It is ‘anochi’ – egotism – that separates us from G-d.

Are there any commentaries which link the idea of ego/I-ness/self-centeredness with idolatry ?

And could it be that people started following their own ‘inner voice’ after Moshe left who was a kind of mounthpiece through which the Almighty spoke?

2 weeks

Answers

  1. They are all very beautiful and apt ideas. The concept that the “anochi” of Devarim is attributed to the Ba’al Shem Tov – the idea that it is the ego that interferes with our connecting to God. The same idea can be found throughout the writings of the Ba’alei haMussar.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team