In Parshat Yitro, Bnei Yisrael receive the Ten Commandments. This was the single most incredible event in history. Just picture Moshe on the mountain, Bnei Yisrael at the bottom and Hashem relating His commandments to us – it was certainly quite a sight to behold!
Immediately following this amazing event, Hashem says, “You have seen that I have spoken to you from the heavens. You shall not make images of me; do not make gods of silver or gold for yourself” (20:18-19). What does Hashem’s addressing us from heaven have anything to do with a prohibition against idols?
The Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochachim chapter one) offers a brilliant insight. He implies that in order to understand what Hashem is saying, we must look at the roots of idolatry. Idolatry started and was greatly spread during the generation of Enosh. What was the logic behind the idolatry? The original idolaters believed that Hashem did exist in the heavens, but if He was up there, how could He always see what was going on down here? The people of that generation answered that Hashem had helpers, like the sun, the moon, and the stars, who would help Hashem supervise us. In order to pay these helpers respect, the people would bow to them and offer them sacrifices. Based on the Rambam, we may explain that once Hashem had spoken to us from the heavens, no longer could we think that Hashem needed helpers. Everything that happens is because of Hashem, not any helper or (Chas VeShalom) other god.
There is another way of understanding this. The words, “You shall not make images of me,” end with an Etnachta note. This note signifies a separation or change in the Pasuk. What this could be showing is that hearing Hashem speak (“You have seen that I have spoken to you from the heavens”) could cause Bnei Yisrael to start assigning certain attributes and characteristics to Hashem. Whether or not we are making ourselves another god, assigning human traits to Hashem is not good either, as it contradicts Rambam’s Third Principle of Emunah.
Thus, Hashem’s message against idolatry is very well-timed – it emphasizes both the positive ideas that Bnei Yisrael need to take away from Har Sinai and the dangerous ones which they must avoid.