As part of the discussion of the role of judges, the parasha discusses the trial of one who worships עבודה זרה:
The expression אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי is odd; צוה should have a direct object , the one commanded, and an indirect object, the commandment itself. This pasuk sounds like it’s the צבא השמים that were not commanded. So Rashi (based on the gemara) says there’s an ellipsis here; the object is the previous איש או אשה and the indirect object is the ויעבד:
That’s important, since the other implication is flat-out heretical:
Wellhausen was the inventor of the JEPD model for the authorship of the Bible, and the idea that the early Israelites went from paganism to monolatry to primitive monotheism was an important part of that model:
And the evolution of religious thought culminated in the perfection of 19th century German Protestantism.
But of course we don’t read our pasuk that way. But Rashi’s reading is not exactly the way the gemara reads it. The gemara says that the reading of אשר לא צויתי לעבדם was a simplification made for foreign consuption:
We’re going to look at the pasuk differently, with כל צבא השמים as the object of לא צויתי. But the heavenly host certainly was commanded, as we say in פסוקי דזמרה:
Sforno points out that צוה without an indirect object (with no explicit command) doesn’t mean commanded but invested with authority:
And he cites similar uses of צוה:
So כל צבא השמים אשר לא צויתי doesn’t mean “I didn’t command you to serve them” but “I didn’t give them independent authority, that they should be served”. And that is the basis for the Rambam’s model of how עבודה זרה started in the first place:
So Moshe is telling us here that serving any of the צבא השמים is, in fact, עבודה זרה and is punishable by death. But that’s for בני ישראל. There’s a fascinating question whether that initial mistake, the idea of שיתוף, that G-d has “partners” in running the universe, is acceptable for non-Jews. One of the שבע מצוות בני נח is the איסור עבודה זרה. But it may be far more lenient for בני נח:
אשר חלק ה׳ אלקיך אתם לכל העמים sounds like ה׳ created צבא השמים for the other nations. Does that imply they can worship them? As with our pasuk, the Septuagint adds words to make the text benign:
But there are many ראשונים who read אשר חלק ה׳ אלקיך אתם לכל העמים literally; ה׳ allows the other nations to serve צבא השמים:
And that seems to be the implication of a famous quote from מיכה (which we only remember the first part of):
The question is a complex one, but the Rama concludes that the halacha is that it is acceptable for non-Jews to believe in שיתוף:
And even in the times of משיח, when the entire world will recognize that ה׳ is the one true G-d, it may be that other religions will still exist (the Rambam is much more חמור on this issue, but the רמ״א certainly has some authority).
It’s a powerful lesson in tolerance and what לֹא יִלְמְדוּן עוֹד מִלְחָמָה really means.