The lady – a Noahide lady - was calling about the way she should worship: particularly, whether she could celebrate Shabbat, the Sabbath.
She’d been reading about Noahism. Her voice was young, though she said she and her husband were “up there,” in their seventies. “We’ve been keeping the Sabbath – and now,” she said, her voice breaking, “they say that’s a sin.” She sobbed. “They say we can’t take a day off!”
We hear this crazy stuff a lot, from Noahides talking about the advice that they get. All we want, they say, is to please God. So “experts” – often surprisingly well credentialed – declare to them such weird ideas about non-Jews and Noahism, Torah and the derech haShem/the way of HaShem.
What’s the role of non-Jews in the world? Torah scholars don’t speak with one voice on the subject. So their advice to Noahides is all over the map. As Rabbi Michael Katz wrote in Rainbow Covenant’s foreword, “The B’nai No’ach have come calling and they are not finding anyone home.”
Jewish “authorities” tell them to take the Bible extremely literally or, on the other hand, to disregard it (because parts of Scripture are forbidden to them, supposedly, or because what they really should be studying is the Oral Torah). They tell them to celebrate the Hebrew New Year, Rosh Hashanah, by all means – “a very important time for you, as Gentiles, just as it is for Jews” - but not to make it pleasant!
That last one, by the way, just came our way, from a supposedly impeccable authority. This great rabbi always emphasizes the Torah’s awesome psychological acuity – HaShem showing, in the wisdom of His Prescriptions, supernatural understanding of what makes people tick. But, obviously, this man’s own understanding of psychology goes out the window with Noahides. If Noahides try to celebrate the New Year as we’d advise, “with gladness and a full heart” (Cf. Deuteronomy 28:47), they will be guilty, he says, of creating a new religion!
The hang-up comes from a dictum of Maimonides (“Rambam”), Hilchot Melachim/Laws of [Messianic era] Kings, chapter 10, section 9: against Noahides establishing religions for themselves.
Noahides are not to originate a new religion or create mitzvot (divine commandments or “connections”) for themselves based on their own decisions, Rambam says. “They may either become full converts to Judaism and accept all the Jewish mitzvot or retain their own ways and rituals without adding to or subtracting from them.”
This has generated a lot of really bad advice. Plus, it plainly - apparently - conflicts with a clear principle of Torah. Because nobody who knows any Torah would ever tell Noahides that they can’t come closer to HaShem – that they must remain steeped in error – unless they become full-fledged Jews!
We don’t ignore Rambam’s dictum. Rather, we appreciate the prohibition: that non-Jews shouldn’t pick and choose from Israel’s religion to add spice and value to their own.
The nations have been “borrowing” from Israel like this for a long time – not just centuries: millennia! – jazzing up their rites, adopting practices and principles, building up man-made spiritual belief systems which (by the way) always end up defaming HaShem.
God has told us how to come to Him: modestly, deliberately, consciously and humbly. Heedless, ridiculously self-confident misappropriation of bits and pieces of HaShem-worship is, obviously, not the Way of HaShem! Noahides who – for instance - claim the blessings of Shabbot/the Sabbath/Shabbos for themselves, making it their holiday, maybe changing it from Saturday, maybe copying Israel and lighting two candles and serving two bread loaves, etc., aren’t just missing most of the point of it, they’re brazenly blaspheming HaShem.
A Noahide who claims to know it all, whom nobody can tell anything, who disdains speaking to Jews, or listening to other Noahides, who acquires supposed “Torah” information from one source while shutting out all others… since that person shall certainly go on to defame HaShem and commit idolatry (i.e., worship phony conceptions of godliness and God) anyway, he or she should stick with a foreign worship-system. The more foreign the better, in fact, lest it detract more directly from HaShem.
Whether that foreign system is Protestantism or Xenu-worship (cf. Scientology) or even modern mainstream Islam (involving at least some Jew-hating and even occasional suicide-bombing for Allah), it’s better, obviously, that the gentile seeker stick to it rather than blaspheme HaShem in the Name of HaShem, usurping aspects of the rites and Ways of Israel to directly defame HaShem.
Basically, this is invoking the great Cause of Israel, and the Name HaShem, to blaspheme (to wrongly and discreditably depict and conceive of) HaShem.
On the other hand, the thinking, modest Noahide who sincerely seeks HaShem can and should do practically anything – whatever he or she believes proper - to come closer to Him. Nothing tops getting with the System.
Yes, Noahides should celebrate the Sabbath! Yes, Noahides should pray to HaShem and say grace to HaShem before meals, and after meals, and be festive on Sukkot/Sukkos/“Tabernacles” and Rosh HaShanah! So long as one is with HaShem – rationally keeping to at least the general drift of Torah, including the larger Torah-system, respectfully in contact with the living People of Israel and the teachers of Israel, and with their fellow Noahides, one can’t go too far wrong. Certain trivial restrictions exist – Noahides shouldn’t try to adopt the discipline of rigorously refraining, as observant Israel does, from all work (any particle of melechet, purposeful creative everyday activity) on these days – but they’re all common-sense and easy. Basically, so long as one doesn’t stubbornly persist in some conduct or belief which would certainly offend practically all Torah authorities (that is, the People of Israel’s shomer mitzvot/scrupulously observant rabbis), one is doing things close to right.
We all know about HaShem’s tests of Abraham, the binding of Isaac, etc. Here’s a more prosaic example of the kind of humility required. It comes, as it happens, from a friend of ours, a frum (Jewishly religious)-from-birth man in his eighth decade. He heard one day that he’d been washing his hands “improperly” (not optimally): he’d been saying the blessing for washing one’s hands as he’d dry his hands, all his life. “You should wash, then say the blessing” (the better to meditate over the mitzvah, the holy commandment/connection), “then dry,” scholars told him. Our friend considered this – and then changed, forever, his life-long practice.
That’s the System. The things we do to honor HaShem and conduct ourselves in life are, in fact, The Way – the halachah, the accepted “walk,” you might say - unless and until we learn better. Even in matters as apparently trivial as washing one’s hands: Divine blessings flow from swimming with the profound cosmic forces that underlie the Universe, instead of swimming against them.
When and if we do learn better – we are of course expected, and should expect it of ourselves, to always remain open to learning better, and eager to learn – we should take it upon ourselves, to make the practice our own.
We call this the way of the conscious servant – the path of those who, whether they are Noahides or Jews, try to genuinely serve HaShem. Genuineness requires conscious effort and humility – practiced willingness to turn away from error.
So, for instance, take the matter of Shabbat/Shabbos. Just from the general drift of Torah we know that this glorious weekly holiday has two main aspects: 1) the universal, pertaining to all human beings, and HaShem’s great gift to humankind of dominion over Earth (of stopping, in the course of Creation, at Stage Six, with our own ancestors, rather than continuing, making better and better creatures); 2) the national, liberationist aspect, marking the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and God’s transmutation of Israel, from a slave people to eternal freedom.
The Jews, naturally, celebrate both aspects; b’nei no’ach, happy as they may be for Israel and God’s fantastic comeuppance of Egypt and its awful “gods” at the Exodus, directly benefit only from the first, universalistic aspect of the Sabbath. It follows, therefore, that Israel lights two candles to commemorate the day while B’nei No’ach should – if they light any candles - light only one. Or, if they prefer, a multitude of candles. Or none at all. They can carve out their own way of acknowledging God’s gifts of Creation, dominion and life. They don’t need to copy Israel’s.
What to say to those good Noahides who have been commemorating Shabbot by lighting two candles? “Now you know better.” (Or, at least, “Now you’ve heard better,” and can make your own further inquiries.) We here can say with great confidence that HaShem Himself, blessed be His Name, appreciated their intentions; so long as one does as well as one can, reaching out to Him humbly, in all sincerity, one walks with Him. But once one learns better about a thing, one needs to do better, or – God forbid – one ends up walking away from Him, or even against Him!
One sees from the profound beauty of the Seven Univeral Laws and the Noahide Law system, combined with Torah, that Hashem’s way isn’t “just” holy but gorgeous to behold: in all ways fair, logical, loving and just. His aim – His cause - is to help all people of every nation come closer to Him, to celebrate Him and His myriad incredible, wonderful gifts to us b’simcha u’tuv levov, with gladness and a full heart.
Noahides aren’t second-class people in this System of His! The Levites aren’t second-class Jews, compared to the Cohanim (priestly descendants of Aaron, the first Big Kahuna/High Priest of HaShem), and the Jews who aren’t Levites aren’t second-class compared to the Levites. Everybody has a preferred status and a unique function with HaShem, whether one is Noahide or Levite or just a “plain” Jew – everybody can receive HaShem’s blessing and also spark blessings. Anybody, Jew or Noahide, blessed with sufficient knowledge of Torah and worldly insight to worship HaShem and only HaShem – to know something of His Name (Who He is), in other words, goes toward happiness and a grateful, over-flowing heart.
By Michael Dallen
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