Q. How can the second commandment say that there must be no other “gods” before God?
Hence the commentators call them “the gods of others”, “what others call gods”, “gods made by others”, and even, linking acher (other) with a root that means “to be late”, “gods that prevent goodness from coming into the world”.
But the real issue is whether these gods deserve to be called gods at all; is there not one only God, with (as Adon Olam puts it), “no other to compare with Him, to be His equal”?
The answer is that they are not real gods. They are described as gods only from the viewpoint of those who believe in them.
The sages were asked by some of the Roman philosophers why God allows such “gods” to exist at all.
“Why,” said the sages, “should God destroy the essential things like sun, moon and stars merely because there are fools who believe in them?”
The philosophers then asked, “So let Him destroy the unessential things that people worship!”
The sages answered, “If He did that, people would say the other things really are gods.”
One sage added, “God will not destroy the world on account of the fools. Life goes on, and the fools who spoil things will eventually have to pay for their folly” (Yalkut Shim’oni 288).
Today the array of “gods” is perhaps even more dazzling than in ancient days – food, money, sex, sport, status… the list is endless.
Shall God destroy food because some people are gluttonous? Shall He destroy money because it rules some people’s lives? Shall He destroy sex because some people have no restraint, or sport because some are obsessed with it, or status because some have to make themselves higher than others?
A sensible person will recognise that God has given mankind many blessings, acknowledge that it is from Him that these boons flow, and use them wisely, sensibly and well.