As we have seen on the previous dapim, avoda zara is a serious prohibition, one that could make one liable to receive a death penalty. The Gemara on today’s daf raises a question about someone who performs idol worship me-ahavah u’me-yirah – because of love or because of fear. According to the Gemara, Abaye believes that such worship is considered to be ordinary worship for which a person would be held liable, while according to Rava he would not be held responsible.
Many approaches are offered to explain what worship me-ahavah u’me-yirah might mean.
According to Rashi, we are talking about someone who loves or fears the person who is encouraging him to perform this worship. That is to say, the person doing avoda zara does not truly believe in it as a deity, rather they are doing it for another reason.
The Rambam raises the possibility that this refers to a situation where the person does not actually believe in the idol as a god rather, for reasons of superstition, he likes it or he believes that it can harm him in some way if he does not worship it. The Meiri points out that this is a very difficult position to take, since someone who worships an idol because he believes that it has the power to help or to harm him is effectively performing avoda zara.
Another suggestion made by the Rambam is that me-ahavah means that the person worships the idol because he is entranced by the beauty of its figure.
Some suggest that worship based on fear means that he performs acts of worship because he is threatened to be killed if he does not worship this idol. Although halakha ordinarily recognizes that a person cannot be held responsible for acts that he is forced to do, perhaps he added additional forms of worship that he was not specifically forced to do. The Ramban suggests that we may be talking about a case where the worshiper fears a penalty of some sort, but he is not in fear of death.