Here's a really good answer to a question asked to R' Avigdor Miller zt"l.
Why does the Torah say other gods, instead of false gods, elohim acherim?
The Torah many times says Elilim. The word Elilim comes from the word Al which means nothing, they're nothing gods. But the most important point is, to realize that all the powers of the world are in the hand of the King, Hashem Melech; and elohim acherim means other powers. So even though a person believes in a Borai, at the same time he wants to show respect to the sun. Now you cannot say it’s a false sun. Very important function in the world that the sun performs. The sun is true. As a power it’s also true, the sun is a power. But other powers should be understood as subject only to the King who rules all the powers, and that's why you cannot say everything is false.
People worship the moon, the moon is a power; it has a big influence on the world. Winds, soil, rivers, are powers, they're not false, they're true, only Hakadosh Baruch Hu is the one who controls all the functions of all the powers in the world. That's why they’re called elohim acherim, other powers, not false powers. It's only false in the sense of worshiping them, but we have to know, the original avodah zara was to believe in Hashem. The original idolaters all believed in Hashem, only they said He delegated His powers to various underlings. The sun is one of His agents.
That seems at first sight to be a Kosher'e idea; but no. Anybody who will show obeisance to the sun, to show respect to the sun, is making an error of avodah zara. The sun is nothing but a shamosh, that's why they called it the shemesh, it's a shamosh, a servant to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Osim B'ayma Retzon Konom, they do with fear the will of their creator, they have no choice of their own. And that's why in the days of the Bayis Rishon when there were some backsliders who worshiped idols, it wasn't a case of a meshumad or assimilationist who changed his religion, or forsook Hashem. No, they believed in Hashem and yet they thought that by worshiping these powers, they're going to get a certain benefit as a result.
That's avodah zara, they're put to death for that, and nevertheless some were very frum in their loyalty to Hashem. Today it seems to us ridiculous because it's out of style, but in the days when the whole world worshiped idols it was very difficult to resist it. And therefore people who were loyal to Hashem stumbled and fell into this snare of the deception of avodah zara.
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