My friend wants to get a tattoo. I have tried to talk her out of it by saying that it is a choice she may one day regret. If you get a bad haircut, it grows back. If you don't like your tattoo, you are stuck with it. She didn't buy it. She says that the Torah only prohibited tattoos because it was done for idol worship, and she is not worshipping idols, so there's nothing wrong. What can I say to that?
She is worshipping idols. She just doesn't realize it.
Idol worship means replacing genuine spirituality for a cheap alternative. In a spiritually starved generation people turn to all types of substitutes for true religion. Our natural religious instinct will always seek to be expressed, but when that instinct is misdirected, we fall for false gods and empty rituals.
The desire to get a tattoo is a well-intentioned but corrupted spiritual yearning. It is not a tattoo that your friend wants. It is permanence.
In our ever-changing world, where fashions come and go, last week's news is ancient history, and our phone requires daily software updates, it is not surprising that people are looking for something solid to hold on to. When you feel your life is running away from you, soon nothing will remain, all you want is to make some permanent mark. A tattoo is just that, a permanent mark. What makes a tattoo so attractive is precisely the fact that unlike a bad haircut, it is irreversible.
But that is idolatry. A tattoo is a poor substitute for making a real permanent mark on the world. It is by doing good deeds that we transcend our mortal existence and touch eternity. It is by having children and teaching them to do good deeds, so they will teach theirs to do the same ad infinitum, that we make an everlasting mark on the world.
I have heard people in their twilight years say, "I didn't do enough good deeds." I have heard people say, "I should have had more children." I never heard anyone say, "I should have got another tattoo." There are better ways to leave an indelible mark.