כ״ט בתשרי ה׳תשע״א (October 7, 2010)

Avodah Zarah 54a-b – Sages and philosophers

Our Gemara relates:

 

Philosophers asked the elders in Rome, “If your God has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?”

 

They replied, “If it was something of which the world has no need that was worshipped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy the universe on account of fools! The world pursues its natural course, and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account.

Another illustration: Suppose a man stole a measure of wheat and went and sowed it in the ground; it is right that it should not grow, but the world pursues its natural course and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account.

Another illustration: Suppose a man has sexual relations with his neighbor’s wife; it is right that she should not conceive, but the world pursues its natural course and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account.”

 

The Gemara parallels this discussion with the statement made by Resh Lakish: The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, “It is not enough that the wicked put My coinage to vulgar use, but they trouble Me and compel Me to set My seal thereon against my will!”

 

The “philosophers” who engaged in conversation – both in Rome and in Greece – did not truly believe in pagan gods as divine. Nevertheless, since they lived in cultures that were steeped in avodah zarah, they did consider the possibility that there was some measure of truth in it. The conversation/debates that we find recorded were part of an attempt to ascertain the truth of the matter by means of engagement with the Jewish Sages.